Trip Ideas - 17 min read

20 BEST Restaurants in Madison, WI (Not Just Cheese Curds!)

Margaret Carter

Margaret Carter, Updated October 23, 2022

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Madison, Wisconsin, is the capital of the state and has that Midwestern hospitality famous in the area. With a gorgeous Capitol building and upscale dining galore, it’s a great place to visit or live. You’ll find many excursions alongside two beautiful lakes, the Mendota and Monona. Between meals, you can visit the Bevans Mine, Capitol Square, the Olbrich Botanical Gardens, and the Henry Vilas Zoo. 

If you’re looking for the best restaurants for a date or family meal, we have you covered. From poutine to cheese curds, upscale steakhouses to downhome burgers, and even a few great seafood establishments, you’ll find all you need to make your vacation or night out a spectacular event. There are also some delectable brunch options! Madison isn’t lacking in the food category. Read on and find that perfect restaurant! 

1. The Old Fashioned

Credit: Tripadvisor

Address: 23 N Pinckney St #1, Madison, WI 53703 | Phone Number: (608) 310-4545

The Old Fashioned is a Wisconsin-themed tavern serving cheese in ways you’ve only seen if you’re from the state. It’s a tavern-style bar with excellent draft beer, decent bar food, and a lively atmosphere. 

If you head to the Old Fashioned, you’re going to want to order the cheese curds along with a few of your favorite drafts before chowing down on The Old Fashioned House Burger, a grilled masterpiece topped with fried onions, an over-easy egg, hickory smoked bacon, and house-made garlic sauce served up on a buttery bun. 

This is a great place to go if you want to relax and have a few drinks with friends over a burger and fries. They also offer a Brandy Old Fashioned that you won’t want to miss. 


Yelp Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Cost: $$
Specialty Dish: Walleye Sandwich
Cuisine: Traditional American

2. Dotty Dumpling’s Dowry

Address: 317 N Frances St, Madison, WI 53703 | Phone Number: (608) 259-0000

Opened by Jeff Stanley in 1969, Dotty Dumpling’s Dowry was originally a jewelry store in Des Moines, Iowa. It didn’t take long for Mr. Stanley to realize it would be much more successful as a burger joint. He set his sights on Madison, Wisconsin, in 1974, and the rest, as they say, is history. 

At Dotty Dumpling’s Dowry, you’ll find classic Wisconsin fare, like Cheese Curds, the Melting Pot Burger, Onion Rings, Sweet Potato Fries, and Poutine. You’ll also find some seriously good draft beers and flights, Old Fashioneds, Chocolate Malt Shakes, and Fudge Pie. 

If you’re looking for burgers and malts, or beer and poutine, Dotty Dumpling’s Dowry is the place to be. It’s perfect for people of all ages! Just keep in mind they’re closed on Mondays and Tuesdays! 

Yelp Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Cost: $$
Specialty Dish: Melting Pot
Cuisine: Vegan

Related Read: 15 Best & Most Popular Buffet Restaurants in America

3. Johnny Delmonico’s Steakhouse

Credit: Yelp

Address: 130 S Pinckney St, Madison, WI 53703 | Phone Number: (608) 230-5800

Johnny Delmonico’s is THE Steakhouse for a night out in Madison. We’re talking fine dining with great wine, fantastic steak, and delectable seafood in a white tablecloth setting with prices to match. Their menu will have you making reservations before you get halfway through!

With classic steak cuts, Johnny Delmonico’s offers some of the best Filet Mignon with Mashed Potatoes around, which you can pair with Hand Cut Beef Tartare or Steak-Stuffed Mushroom Caps as a starter and the Iceberg Wedge Salad before working your way towards dessert. 

This is a date night or celebration establishment, so expect all the finery and impeccable service. While they don’t have a dress code, it’s definitely the place to wear business casual or better, as it’s known for serving an amazing anniversary dinner. 

Yelp Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Cost: $$$
Specialty Dish: Scallops
Cuisine: Steakhouse & Seafood

4. Graft

Credit: Tripadvisor

Address: 18 N Carroll St, Madison, WI 53703 | Phone Number: (608) 229-8800

Located in the Churchhill Building, Graft is a full-service bar with views of the Capitol that offers upscale yet casual dining in a booth setting that is cozy and intimate. They offer small plate meals with a fantastic wine selection and have a tremendous bartender on staff. 

Patrons of Graft highly recommend the Scallops, Short Rib, and Dry Aged Bone in Ribeye plates, as well as the Pot De Crème and Brussels Sprouts. You also can’t go wrong with the Croquettes. If you go, be sure to try their Manhattan or ask your server to pair a good wine with your main. 

Graft is the place for friends to have a nice meal out and for business deals to be made over lunch. The booths only fit four, so keep that in mind if you have a larger party. You might want to make reservations for the meal. 

Yelp Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️½
Cost: $$$
Specialty Dish: Scallops
Cuisine: New American

Related Read: 20 Best Romantic Getaways In Wisconsin

5. Merchant Madison

Credit: Tripadvisor

Address: 121 S Pinckney St, Madison, WI 53703 | Phone Number: (608) 259-9799

Merchant Madison is a liquor store/Gastropub combo serving up fresh farm-to-table delights and seriously fabulous cocktails. To top off how awesome they are, they’re a teaching kitchen, so they’re constantly evolving and making up new and inventive recipes. 

If they’re on the current menu at Merchant, be sure to try the Cheese Curds, Lamb Sliders, Truffle Tots, Scotch Eggs, Steak Frites, and Pork Pappardelle. You’ll also want to stay late for the craft cocktails, especially the Sazerac, Brandy Old Fashioned, and Whiskey Sour. 

Merchant is your perfect late-night destination. They’re open until midnight on Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday, 1 am on Friday and Saturday, and 10 pm on Tuesday. They’re closed on Mondays because they deserve a night off after staying on point all week! 

Yelp Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Cost: $$
Specialty Dish: Lamb Sliders
Cuisine: New American

6. Bonfyre American Grille

Credit: Yelp

Address: 2601 W Beltline Hwy, Madison, WI 53713 | Phone Number: (608) 273-3973

Located in Arbor Gate, Bonfyre American Grille serves pure American cuisine in a beautiful stone and wood establishment. It feels upscale and classy yet is still casual enough to grab a quick bite to eat during the day or go on a Friday evening date. 

At Bonfyre, the Jambalaya is a must try, as are the Pot Roast, Crab Cakes, Fish Tacos, Mussels, Truffle Fries, and Wood-Fyred Seafood Trio. You might want to give the Cheese Curds a try as well since it’s nearly blasphemous not to when in the great state of Wisconsin. 

While the food is fyre, the wine and drink selection is just as good. Feel free to sit back and linger over your meal with a cocktail or expertly paired glass of wine. 

Yelp Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Cost: $$
Specialty Dish: Rotisserie Chicken
Cuisine: Traditional American

Related Read: Top 40 Best Camping Spots in Wisconsin

7. Sardine

Credit: Yelp

Address: 617 Williamson St, Madison, WI 53703 | Phone Number: (608) 441-1600

Set in a former warehouse on Lake Monona, Sardine is a French restaurant serving up fresh takes on classic cuisines. It’s co-owned and run by chefs John Gadau and Phillip Hurley, who hail from Chicago and learned their trade in California. 

At Sardine, you’ll want to ensure you make it for brunch on Saturday or Sunday. They offer a simply irresistible brunch lineup. Start with the Oysters on the Half Shell, then order the Charcuterie Board and Warm Duck Confit & Frisée. If you still have room, give the Crab, Bacon Lardon and Shrimp Cakes a try. They’re also phenomenal for lunch and dinner. 

With bistro-style seating, this is a great place to take a friend or date and share a tall table for two. You can also check out their happy hour for oysters and drinks. Don’t forget your can of sardines before you go! 

Yelp Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Cost: $$
Specialty Dish: Duck Confit Salad
Cuisine: French

8. The Tipsy Cow

Credit: Yelp

Address: 102 King St, Madison, WI 53703 | Phone Number: (608) 287-1455

The Tipsy Cow is a lovely bar set in a corner brownstone with outdoor seating facing the Capitol and fantastic pub food that has been carefully selected over the past decade to delight customers. The bar also offers a rotating selection of draft beer. 

When you go to the Tipsy Cow, be sure to order The Tipsy Brussels & Bacon Burger, a beef patty 

with swiss cheese, roasted balsamic glazed brussels sprouts, aioli, and bacon. You’ll also love the Goat Cheese Curds and Truffle Fries. 

This versatile bar and burger joint is perfect for any occasion. You can take friends for a night out, take the family for a good burger, or have a spur-of-the-moment date with great beer and fantastic food. Just keep in mind the patio seating is only available during warmer weather!

Yelp Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Cost: $$$
Specialty Dish: Tipsy Burger
Cuisine: Traditional American

Related Read: 15 Best Waterfalls In Wisconsin

9. Tornado Steak House

Credit: Visit Madison

Address: 116 S Hamilton St, Madison, WI 53703 | Phone Number: (608) 256-3570

The Tornado Steakhouse is an upscale dining establishment known for its delectable cuts of meat. It’s traditional to its core, offering rustic vibes, white table clothes, and a wooden bar centered in the restaurant. 

When you go to The Tornado, make sure you have a healthy appetite. Patrons rave about the 28 Oz Bone-In Ribeye and Frog Legs, as well as the Escargot, Shrimp Cocktail, Relish Tray, and Prime Rib. If you have room for dessert, get the Cheesecake!

As a high-end steakhouse, you’ll want to save this restaurant for special occasions such as birthdays, anniversaries, or when the in-laws are in town. Of course, it’s relaxed enough for a date night, but with so many options, keep this one special. 

Yelp Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Cost: $$$
Specialty Dish: French Onion Soup
Cuisine: Steakhouse

10. Graze Restaurant

Credit: Tripadvisor

Address: 1 S Pinckney St, Madison, WI 53703 | Phone Number: (608) 251-2700

Located next to Dane County’s Farmer Market, Graze is a culinary expedition into the farm-to-table fare, Gastropub style. With glass walls, polished wood, community tables, and candlelit meals, Graze feels fancy yet offers fun for everyone who walks in the doors. 

As a farm-fresh restaurant, the menu at Graze changes often, but if it’s available, be sure to try the Bibimbap, Pork Buns, or Graze Burger. You won’t regret an order of the Fried Hook’s Cheese Curds, either. They also offer Chicken and Waffles, Pulled Pork, and Steak. 

This place offers excellent cocktails and is open from Tuesday to Saturday in the evenings. It’s perfect for having a few drinks with friends. If you find yourself near the Capitol after business hours, be sure to check it out and order a Sun Cocktail! 

Yelp Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Cost: $$
Specialty Dish: Bibimbap
Cuisine: New American

11. Cento

Credit: Tripadvisor

Address: 122 W Mifflin St, Madison, WI 53703 | Phone Number: (608) 284-9378

Madison brings authentic Italian to the table at Cento. With housemade pasta and sauces, a lengthy wine list, and classy vibes, Cento feels like stepping into Italy for the evening. They tout Old World Italian with modern techniques. 

When you go, start with the Seasonal Cheeseboard and follow it up with Shrimp Crudo or Potato Gnocchi. Then order the Tagliatelle and Chicken Parm. It’s best to go with at least one other person so you can share your meals. We promise it’s worth it! 

Cento is perfect for a relaxed date night. They’ll help you pair the perfect wine with your order, and you’ll be undeniably impressed with the service and food. Don’t forget to try their Tiramisu!

Yelp Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Cost: $$
Specialty Dish: Bacon Wrapped Dates
Cuisine: Italian

12. Osteria Papavero

Credit: Tripadvisor

Address: 128 E Wilson St, Madison, WI 53703 | Phone Number: (608) 255-8376

Osteria Papavero is another Italian restaurant worth a try. They’re very casual and offer traditional Italian in a laid-back and comfortable setting. If you’re craving basic Italian with phenomenal flavor, Osteria Papavero will exceed your expectations. 

Patrons at Osteria Papavero suggest the Pappardelle Al Cinghiale, the Salumi E Formaggi, and Tortellini, but most go back for the desserts on offer. They have Butterscotch Pudding, Budino Di Caramello, Panna Cotta, Budino Di Pane E Cioccolato, and Pistachio Cake. 

This is the perfect establishment for a family meal or a large group of friends. It works well for a date, too, especially if you’d like to have a nightcap or two over dessert. If you don’t have room for dessert, make sure you get one or two to go. 

Yelp Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Cost: $$
Specialty Dish: Antipasto Di Mare
Cuisine: Italian

13. L’Etoile Restaurant

Credit: Yelp

Address: 1 S Pinckney St, Madison, WI 53703 | Phone Number: (608) 251-0500

For a truly upscale fine dining French experience, L’Etoile offers classy and elegant vibes made for date nights that you won’t forget. It’s located on Capitol Square near the Dane County Farmers Market and offers fresh farm-to-table fare with an American influence. 

At L’Etoile, you’ll want to dress up for the delicacies on their menu. From Lamb Tartare to Coconut Panna Cotta, Flake Crudo to Coq au Vin, White Fish Caviar, Scallops, Mussels, and Wild Alaskan Halibut, you’ll be more than satisfied. The desserts are also divine and highly recommended, like the Milk Chocolate Panna Cotta. 

Like many of the best restaurants in Madison, this one offers the perfect vibe and menu for an amazing date night. Dress business casual or better and have an elegant dinner with your special someone. Don’t forget to ask your server for a wine pairing to complete the meal. 

Yelp Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Cost: $$$$
Specialty Dish: New American
Cuisine: Scallops

14. Lombardino’s Restaurant

Credit; Yelp

Address: 2500 University Ave, Madison, WI 53705 | Phone Number: (608) 238-1922

For casual dining with excellent food in a Romanesque atmosphere, Lombardino’s is a fabulous choice. They have a large area for outdoor seating, a warm Mediterranean interior, and the service is top-notch. 

At Lombardino’s, be sure to try the Calamari Fritti, Gorgonzola Stuffed Dates, Gnocchi, Spaghetti Alla Bolognese, Tagliatelle, or Roasted Mushroom Pizza. They also offer Rabbit Ragu with Pappardelle, Tiramisu, and a delightful wine menu. 

This establishment is all about family, so bring the kids and have a wonderful evening out. It’s also perfect for a business lunch, lunch date, or a just because meal out with friends. The staff is incredibly knowledgeable about the food and drinks, so don’t be wary of asking what to pair. 

Yelp Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Cost: $$
Specialty Dish: Tiramisu
Cuisine: Italian

15. Eno Vino Downtown

Credit: Tripadvisor

Address: 1 N Webster St, Madison, WI 53703 | Phone Number: (608) 455-0663

Located in the AC Hotel in Downtown Madison, Eno Vino Downtown offers floor-to-ceiling views of the Capitol building and elevated fare for those looking for an upscale dining experience. It’s a wine bar and bistro with an award-winning wine list of over 300 selections. 

At Eno Vino, you’ll find small plate delicacies like Crispy Lobster, Annatto Pork Tacos, Truffled Fries, Lobster Risotto, Bruschetta Brie with Apples, Lamb Lollipops, Foie Gras Duo, and Chipotle and Honey Grilled Salmon. For dessert, they offer a fantastic Tiramisu and Crème Brûlée. 

Whether you’re staying in the hotel or need a break from the bustling Capitol, Eno Vino offers a high-class respite for those who want to sip an Espresso Martini and enjoy fantastic food. 

Yelp Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Cost: $$$
Specialty Dish: Short Rib Wonton
Cuisine: Seafood

16. Naples 15

Credit: Naples 15

Address: 15 N Butler St, Madison, WI 53703 | Phone Number: (608) 250-6330

Located in Butler Plaza, Naples 15 is a classic Italian fare restaurant serving up hefty portions of your favorite Italian dishes. They have indoor and outdoor seating, perfect for any size party, and comfortable tables that make you feel like you’re right at home. 

Naples 15 is famous for its pizza and pasta. Patrons love the Margherita Doc Pizza Reginella, Lobster Ravioli, and Rigatoni Al Salvatore for mains, with Gnocchi for a classic side. They also speak highly of the Cannoli and Espresso. 

This restaurant is perfect for a family night out or a date night for two. It’s just casual enough to feel like a great choice for a fun night while also serving up food good enough to impress a date! 

Yelp Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Cost: $$$
Specialty Dish: Lobster Ravioli
Cuisine: Italian

17. Vintage Brewing Co. Madison

Credit: Vintage Brewing Co. Madison

Address: 803 E Washington Ave, Madison, WI 53703 | Phone Number: (608) 819-6241

Set inside the Gebhardt Building with views of Lake Monona and Lake Mendota on each side, this brewpub is ready to serve up fantastic bar food alongside craft cocktails and seriously amazing beer. The interior is spacious with a beautiful bar, and there is a small outdoor seating area for nice weather. 

If you go to Vintage Brewing Co., be sure to try the Crispy Buffalo Chicken Sandwich, Beer Battered Cod, Pork Nachos, or Pulled Pork Burrito. While the food is great, the beer keeps people coming back. Their beer is house-made craft and worth the visit! 

Even with the pub vibe, this is a great place for a relaxed meal. It’s casual with an upscale vibe and perfect for lunch out with friends or family. It’s busy in the evenings, so be prepared for a bit of a wait. 

Yelp Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Cost: $$
Specialty Dish: Chicken Bacon Ranch
Cuisine: Bar Food

18. Heritage Tavern

Credit: Heritage Tavern

Address: 131 E Mifflin St, Madison, WI 53703 | Phone Number: (608) 283-9500

Heritage Tavern is all about that old-world flair with new Americana fare. They serve dinner and weekend brunch in a classy establishment with covered outdoor seating and tables for two. Special desserts are served on live edge wooden slabs, and their drinks are second to none.

At Heritage Tavern, the plating is as important as the flavors, and several must-tries exist. Start with the Assorted Deviled Eggs, which is one of their unique specialties. For a main, get the Mushroom & Juniper Crusted Grilled Striploin & Braised Beef Short Rib. For dessert, get the Chocolate-Peanut Verrine, a milk chocolate mousse with salted peanut feuilletine and roasted cocoa nib.

Their brunch is incredibly popular, so if you’re looking for a great brunch spot for a date, you’ve found it. They serve brunch on Sundays from 9 am to 2 pm, and you’ll want to make reservations. 

Yelp Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️½
Cost: $$$
Specialty Dish: Assorted Deviled Eggs
Cuisine: New American

19. The Coopers Tavern

Credit: Yelp

Address: 20 W Mifflin St, Madison, WI 53703 | Phone Number: (608) 256-1600

For traditional Irish, Coopers Tavern offers everything from Irish beer to Irish fare. It’s an upscale tavern-style establishment with warm wooden tables for two and a beautiful bar. They also have 28 craft beers on tap if you’re interested. 

When you go to The Coopers, you’ll want to order the Poutine, Fish and Chips, Scotched Eggs, Coopers Curds, Reuben Sandwich, Mussels, or Pork Belly Mac and Cheese. For beer, try the Three Sheeps Cashmere Hammer, or keep it light with one of their Irish Ciders. 

This is a fantastic establishment to grab a good meal solo or have a night out with friends. It also works well for dates, but as the tables are small, families with children aren’t recommended. Get ready to try some of the best beer you’ve ever had, and make sure you have a ride home! 

Yelp Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Cost: $$
Specialty Dish: Poutine
Cuisine: Pub Food

20. Tempest Oyster Bar

Credit: Tempest Oyster Bar

Address: 120 E Wilson St Suite 3, Madison, WI 53703 | Phone Number: (608) 258-1443

With live music on the weekends and delectable seafood, Tempest Oyster Bar is undoubtedly an experience. The walls are whitewashed, the decor is sea-themed, and the bar is lined with green glass bottles.  There’s even a lovely little patio outside. 

Tempest Oyster Bar is all about oysters and other upscale seafood. You can get Oysters on the Half Shell, Oyster Rockefeller, Shrimp Cocktail, Conch Fritters, Mussels, Swordfish, Shrimp and Scallops on Grits, Seared Red Snapper, and Lobster Bisque. 

This is an excellent place for lunch, offering main staples like Po’ Boys and Rolls. If you’re looking for a casual dining experience with delicious food, Tempest Oyster Bar provides that and more. Their live music is also fantastic for a weekend night out! 

Yelp Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Cost: $$$
Specialty Dish: Scallops
Cuisine: Steakhouse

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