I have been feeling extremely nostalgic for home lately. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Chicago and I am so glad things worked out the way that they did for me to end up here, but there are so many things I miss about Madison. Most importantly, I miss my friends and family. I would say that is a given.
What is the runner up, you ask? Food. The restaurant scene in Madison is unbelievable. Okay, maybe you’re from Chicago or another big city and you think a Michelin star is the only way to rate a restaurant, but let me tell ya – Madison, WI is a gem.
In honor of this nostalgia (and the rumbling in my stomach), I have narrowed down my favorite spots for brunch, lunch, dinner, coffee, and drinks.
Depending on the style of brunch you are looking to have, Madison has a lot of options for you. If you’re up around the Capital and are looking for something a little on the classier side, I recommend Graze. The menu is diverse and truly offers something for everyone. I typically do something classic, like two eggs with sausage and toast, because the cooks really prepare it well! If the menu isn’t enough for you, the view makes the visit worth it.
If you are in the mood to have a little more ~fun~ for brunch, I would hit up DLUX or Madison’s. Both have GREAT bottomless mimosa and bloody mary deals. However, if it is a weekend, especially on Badger gameday, you better get there early or be prepared to wait a few hours.
The food menus at each restaurant very, so it really depends on what you’re hungry for. At DLUX, I typically get the spicy sausage sammy and split a side of the fresh donut balls and breakfast potatoes with the table. At Madison’s I like to go with the market omelet. It is always made with fresh, local ingredients and who doesn’t love that?
Lunch in Madison is truly what has made me miss the city the most. There are SO many options, it was tough to narrow down my favorites.
Starting with one of my favorites, Everly. When I lived in Madison, I was a waitress at Everly and ate at the restaurant countless times. The menu never got old! Unfortunately, my favorite dishes (that I still dream about today) are not on their current menu. Each season the restaurant switches up the dishes based on seasonal ingredients.
If there were two dishes I wish Everly could bring back (just for me), would be their salmon sandwich and pan roasted brussels sprouts. The salmon sandwich was made on Madison Sourdough Co toasted bread, topped with pan seared salmon, shaved brussels sprouts, apple slices, and a cranberry jam. I kid you not, I ate this dish EVERY time I worked. Alongside the salmon sandwich I would get the sprouts, which were roasted and then tossed in a gribiche that I have yet to master at home. I am drooling just thinking of it.
Another stop on my Madison lunch tour is Bel Air Cantina. Started in Milwaukee, Bel Air is a fun and casual place to grab tacos and a pitcher of margs. I recommend going on Tuesday or Thursday, when Bel Air does their $2 taco special. My favorites very (because they are all SO good) but I will typically get the baja tilapia and the pollo verde. If you want the free side of rice and beans (and trust me, you do) get a third taco. You can’t go wrong with a carne asada. Be sure not to gorge yourself too much on the chips and salsa, even though that is nearly impossible. The orange salsa is by far the best I have had at a taco joint. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
If you want to know how much I truly love Bel Air Cantina, and how much I recommend it, understand this: I used to drive the 75 minute drive (one way) from Madison to Milwaukee after class to get Bel Air for lunch. Then I would drive back! That is how much I love this place.
If you are looking for something a little lighter and on-the-go, I recommend Forage. This was my on-the-way to class or studying stop for lunch. You can build your own grain bowl or salad and all of the ingredients are super fresh. They also have house made juices and kombucha to take with you!
Finally, depending on the time of year you are visiting, I would recommend a stop at El Grito Taqueria. It is an awesome little food truck that sits at the top of State Street for weekday lunches during the warmer months. Joshua, the owner, switches up the daily menu but if you can, I recommend the cauliflower taco. I don’t remember exactly what he puts in there, but it is the best I have had.
Tavernakaya, or TK as most people refer to it as, is a great spot to grab dinner for a date or with a group. It is family-style plates, meaning you can share most of the entrees! Some of my favorite things to order at TK are the cheese curds, bacon & egg fried rice, and general tso’s cauliflower. They also have a wide variety of sushi if that is up your alley! I am not super into raw sushi, so my go-to rolls are the dragon and t.k.o.
Another Madison favorite, located above the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, is Fresco. Although I prefer to visit Fresco in the warmer months so I can sit outside on the rooftop terrace, they also offer a great winter menu. Like many restaurants in the city, Fresco also focuses on offering fresh, local, seasonal ingredients in their dishes. A lot of their dishes are dietary restriction friendly and health-focused. This spot not only offers a wonderful meal, it also has a great view of the city.
Finally, if you are looking for a rich, buttery, Italian meal, Cento is the place. I have only eaten here a few times, but I have always enjoyed it! When I visit, we typically split bread, salad, and a few of the pasta dishes. They are all so good, I don’t have a particular recommendation; however, if it is available, I do recommend you try the olive oil cake for dessert. I have yet to have elsewhere that is so light and fluffy yet rich and moist like this cake. I think I ended up having two slices last time!
If you like a cozy, creamy latte like myself, you’ll love these coffee shops.
If you’re from Chicago, you may have already heard of Colectivo Coffee. A few shops have popped up over the past couple years and, as expected, people have flocked to them. I love to set up shop at Colectivo with a matcha latte and the bacon biscuit (offered all day long!) and get work done. The atmosphere is super relaxing since most shops have a ton of greenery and a fireplace. My favorite Colectivo in Madison is the Monroe Street location. It is so unique in comparison to the two downtown shops. If you want a seat, I recommend getting there early. If you can, grab a spot in the lounge chairs by the fireplace and cozy up with a book.
Next stop for coffee in Madison is Stone Creek Coffee. This gem has only been in the city for about two years and it is the SPOT now. Everytime I visit Madison, I make sure to stop at SCC to grab a lavender latte. They make all of their syrups in house and you can really taste the quality. Chicago friends, you are in luck, because Stone Creek Coffee is actually opening a shop up off of the Belmont Red Line stop in the spring of 2019!
Last, but definitely not least, Ground Zero. Located in the quaint, cozy Willy Street Neighborhood, Ground Zero offers one of the best lattes in the city. They roast their own beans and the foam on top is so creamy and delicious, I typically wont get a flavor shot because it is just THAT GOOD. When I was in school in Madison, I would drive over to this shop to get away from campus and really focus on my studies. It has a post-cold war theme, hence the name Ground Zero, and is filled with old timey maps and other fun decorations.
A place I cannot say enough good things about… Lucille. Located on the Capital Square in an old bank, Lucille offers some of the best cocktails and beer selection. Oh, they also do daily specials on rum shots, if that is something you are into!
The setup of the building offers a lot of variety for visitors. On the main floor is a large bar with seating along with tables to the side that can accommodate for larger parties. The basement of the building has more of a speakeasy feel with a bar and lounge placed inside the old bank vault. Finally, the upstairs is full of booths and tables, offering even more space for visitors to sit and eat, drink, and be merry!
The drink menu changes based on the time of year, and if you are lucky enough to visit Madison in December, you can experience the joy that is The Miracle on King Street (aka Lucille as a Christmas Bar). While you are enjoying a cocktail or beer, I highly recommend the pulled pork nachos. They are large enough to share with a group, but you won’t want to!
Another great spot for drinks out in Madison is Eno Vino. I admit, I have only visited once since it opened after I moved to Chicago, but the view of the Capital put it on this list! I recommend you can grab a charcuterie board, a couple glasses of wine, and catch up with your friends while admiring the view.
Lastly, if you want a more hole-in-the-wall place, I recommend Natt Spil. I was first brought here by my friend Maria after a serving shift and I fell in love because of the kombucha cocktails. They also offer a small but mighty late night food menu. A heads up if you plan on stopping: make sure you have cash because, unlike most modern places, Natt Spil doesn’t accept cards. They do have an ATM in the back, however.
PLANNING A TRIP TO MADISON?
Feel free to comment below or shoot me an email if you are planning on going to Madison. I have so many more recommendations that I would love to share!
What are your favorite spots and why? Leave a comment below so I can try them next time I am home to visit!