Tucked along Lake Michigan, a stone’s throw from downtown, Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward stands as a prime example of how urban development and neighborhood history can thrive harmoniously. While New York City’s Meatpacking District and Chicago’s Fulton Market have boomed into veritable restaurant amusement parks, the Third Ward has been able to retain its roots while filling defunct spaces with new businesses—most notably, restaurants.
Nowadays, it’s the hottest neighborhood in town, rivaling any restaurant-saturated enclave in the nation. From foie gras potstickers at DanDan and melon tartare at red-hot Fauntleroy to The Outsider, one of the city’s first rooftop cocktail bars, this is one of the best neighborhoods for dining in the Midwest.
Referencing both a Chinese noodle and the two chefs behind the restaurant, DanDan reigns as the king of the Third Ward’s dining scene. Chefs Dan Van Rite and Dan Jacobs have catapulted to local acclaim in recent years, expanding their dining empire along the way, and they’ve got this bustling neo-Chinese eatery to thank for it. While the space is casual, upbeat and vibrantly adorned, DanDan’s food indicates serious talent and precision in the kitchen. Riffing off classic Chinese flavors and a shared love for the cuisine, Van Rite and Jacobs whip up novelties like schmaltz fried rice, General Tso’s cauliflower, foie gras potstickers and mung bean kimchi pancakes. Of course, per the name, the restaurant has a particular knack for noodles, as evidenced by the exemplary beef chow fun, Singapore noodles or the namesake dandan egg noodles laced with ground pork, cilantro and chili oil.
As if DanDan couldn’t get any better, the eatery also has a clandestine restaurant-within-a-restaurant called EsterEv. So named for Van Rite and Jacobs’ great-grandmothers, this intimate alcove takes diners on another culinary journey entirely. While DanDan traffics in convivial Chinese, EsterEv hones in on elaborate globally-inspired tasting menus that are ever-changing and designed to be shared among diners on two large communal tables. In a dining room decorated with homey family photos, guests feast on a spree of fine dining bites, which run the gamut from caviar-topped tater tots and lamb tortellini to a matcha-scented Japanese cheesecake. The restaurant is only open for dinner on Fridays and Saturdays, so seats are rightfully coveted.
For further proof of Van Rite and Jacobs incredible impact on the Third Ward, look no further than their latest mega-hit. Fauntleroy marks bold new territory for the dexterous duo, delving into French cuisine with a contemporary tilt. The space is cozy and alluring, highlighting neighborhood roots with fixtures like an old vault-turned-back bar. Luxurious lighting, lush planters and elegant art set the tone for a memorable meal from Milwaukee’s finest. Familiar French staples like Lyonnaise salad, foie gras and cassoulet make menu appearances, joined by the likes of winter squash tagine, mushroom crepes and hard-to-stop-eating chicken liver eclairs. The duck à l’orange, designed for two, is a real show-stopper—succulent and tender breast meat comes adorned with zesty orange sauce, leg confit, lentils and a meaty “salad” of foie gras and grilled duck heart. It’s a bold dish for a culinary duo asserting themselves as a powerhouse to watch.
The anchor restaurant inside the new-ish Kimpton Journeyman Hotel, the first boutique lodging property in the neighborhood, Tre Rivali is a veritable oasis of Mediterranean cuisine. The food comes courtesy of acclaimed chef Heather Terhune, who asserts her mettle with all-day dishes that are as fresh and flavorful as they are lustrous. Sesame hummus makes for a smooth start to dinner, tipping off the tastebuds that something great is in store. Indeed, Terhune continues to impress with paella arancini, wood-grilled pork spiedini, smoked black cod and carrot gnocchi with—cheekily enough—rabbit sausage. Wood-fired pizzas, seasonal vegetables and meatier, burly plates round out the offerings. As tempting as it may be to gorge, desserts are worth saving space for. Case in point: olive oil cake with sea salt ice cream and candied orange, butterscotch budino with rosemary shortbread and honey-ricotta cheesecake with phyllo kataifi, orange blossom honey and Sicilian pistachio ice cream.
Nine stories above Tre Rivali lies one of Milwaukee’s sole rooftop bars—and it’s a good one. The Outsider raises the bar on the city’s rapidly developing cocktail scene, featuring drinks as impressive (and photogenic) as the panoramic views. Drinks change seasonally and always exude a penchant for technique, toying with atypical flavor combinations. “Brandy Toddy” is a wintry warmer made with St. George spiced pear, creme de cacao, chile syrup, Jamaican #1 bitters and hot water. Then there’s the “Glitch in the Matrix,” featuring rye washed with sage brown butter, along with Evan Williams Black Label bourbon, tequila, Amaro Nonino and more of those heady Jamaican bitters. Beer, wine and snacks (e.g. steak fries, crab dip, crispy oyster mushrooms) round things out. This is also a place that’s designed for socializing, with giant Jenga and shuffleboard courts providing the entertainment.
The name means “honest” in Italian, and that’s precisely how a meal here tastes. Walking into the brick-walled restaurant feels like strolling into a bucolic eatery in the Italian countryside, with food as heartfelt as the welcoming service. Using Italian tradition as its launching pad, Onesto jazzes things up and puts its own stamp on things with crafty takes on bruschetta, pasta and seafood. Start with the burrata with pistachio pesto or beetroot carpaccio enlivened with peppadew peppers and lemon-shallot vinaigrette. Then move on to an arugula salad decked out with candied pecans, apples, cider vinaigrette and smoked butternut squash puree. Heartier portions include spinach ravioli with grilled oyster mushrooms and rosemary brown butter, and seared scallops with spaghetti squash cacio e pepe.
Well before food halls became the trendy national juggernaut they are today, Milwaukee was home to an O.G. The iconic Milwaukee Public Market is a crowd-pleasing fixture in the Third Ward, filled to the brim with a wide range of vendors spanning breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert and everything in between. Swing by Anodyne Coffee Roasting Co. for a caffeine jolt, or get your sugar fix from Kehr’s Candies or C. Adam’s Bakery. Savory options include the St. Paul Fish Company, the salad-slinging Green Kitchen, Thai-Namite, Margarita Paradise Mexican Restaurant and On the Bus, featuring vegan sandwiches, smoothies, acai bowls and other wholesome bites.
Carnivores, take note. You can’t come to Milwaukee and not visit the meat Mecca known as Bavette La Boucherie. The masterwork of Karen Bell, a pedigreed butcher and chef, it all started as a butcher shop before evolving into a full-blown restaurant. Guests can pop in to shop for sustainably raised and sourced meats, and/or savor a hearty meal of soulful cookery. When it comes to the latter, Bavette La Boucherie dazzles with charcuterie and burly sandwiches like porchetta, BBQ pork and a beef belly banh mi. Beyond sandwiches, Bell and co. have a wide range of expertise, including vegetable dishes and seafood. Try the fried green tomatoes with braised bacon and gribiche; turkey wings glazed with chili fish sauce caramel; roasted cauliflower and grape salad with pickled pepper vinaigrette; and red curry turkey soup with garbanzos and mint yogurt.
The same group behind Onesto strikes again with this adorable bakery and cafe, the only artisan donut shop of its kind in the city. Made from scratch using the utmost ingredients, from the flour to the jammy fillings, the sheer amount of flavors is dizzying in the best way. Options rotate near-daily, frequently tinkering with nostalgic recipes like a pecan pie yeast donut, a tiramisu cake donut, a peanut butter cup version and a gingerbread option. There’s even a brandy old fashioned donut, inspired by the classic Wisconsin cocktail—don’t worry, this one won’t make you tipsy. Impressively, Holey Moley also features a lengthy lineup of gluten-free donuts and vegan options as well.