16 Best Restaurants in Madison, WI

One of the best parts of any trip is taking in food options along the way. Every city has a lot to offer, and Madison, WI, is no different. Madison is a city with an isthmus, as two giant lakes – Lake Mendota and Lake Monona, frame either side of the state capitol.

Whether you are here for business or pleasure, Madison is a happening place to be with a surprising food scene. As a Madison local, I aim to introduce you to some of the best places you can eat – both the well-known spots and some off the beaten path.

See this list to check out some of the best restaurants in Madison!

1. The Old Fashioned

$$ | (608) 310-4545 | WEBSITE

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A classic Wisconsin tavern that is an excellent choice for dinner. If you are looking for a quintessential Wisconsin experience, The Old Fashioned has a lot to offer. As a state that is known for beer and cheese, this restaurant delivers.

Here you can get some famous Wisconsin cheese curds! I won’t weigh in on who has the best cheese curds in Madison – it is a contentious topic for us – but The Old Fashioned’s are very good. I wouldn’t be a Wisconsinite if I didn’t also recommend that you try out fresh cheese curds while you are here with us (see #9).

The Old Fashioned is also the name of a classic Wisconsin cocktail – made with brandy instead of whiskey like you may be used to elsewhere. They have several twists on the beverage that may be right up your alley. Located in the heart of downtown Madison, The Old Fashioned is a restaurant worth visiting.

 

 

2. Sardine

$$ | (608) 441-1600 | WEBSITE

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Sardine is a gorgeous place to go for a night out on the town. Sardine offers creative French fare, which you can eat in one of Madison’s historic neighborhoods while enjoying calming views of Lake Monona.

Sardine prides itself on using fresh and local ingredients that embody Wisconsin’s heart while speaking to the French tradition. Be sure to check out their smoked salmon or their Croque Monsieur with Wisconsin ham.

 

 

3. Swagat

$$ | (608) 836-9399 | WEBSITE

Best Restaurants in Madison, WI

Are you looking for authentic Indian food? Swagat is the place to go. Not only is the food delicious, but it is also affordable. They use a classic clay oven to craft their Tandoori-style creations, which bring out the aromatic herbs and spices you look for in Indian food.

You can try dishes from all different regions of India, whether you are partial to Chicken Tikki Masala or want to try something less familiar. We particularly recommend the vegetable samosas. Prepared to your ideal level of spice.

 

 

4. La Penca

$ | (608) 819-6662 | WEBSITE

 

 
 
 
 
 
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La Penca is a hole-in-the-wall type of place right next to a laundromat – but don’t let that throw you off. It has some of the top-rated Mexican food in the city and is well worth a visit.

La Penca will have all your favorites – from shrimp tacos to Arroz Con Pollo. If you come for lunch, there are terrific specials that will surely hit the spot.

 

 

5. Dexter’s Pub

$$ | (608) 244-3535 | WEBSITE

 

 
 
 
 
 
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You can’t come to Wisconsin and miss out on the fabulous tradition of Friday Fish Fry. Wisconsin families gather to eat fish on Fridays, and you’ll see why after you visit Dexter’s Pub. Fish fry has been one of my favorite parts of extended family gatherings for as long as I can remember (and, of course, Sheepshead and Euchre)!

Dexter’s Pub has a sports bar vibe, and beer lovers will be excited by their extensive, rotating line of local and imported craft beers.

From Great Lakes Perch to Alaskan Cod, you’ll find the fish you are looking for here. These fish are sustainably harvested and wild-caught. You can also look forward to your traditional potato side dish – pick your favorite. Dexter’s also offers a Wednesday night fish fry to give you flexibility.

 

 

6. La Taguara

$$ | (608) 721-9100 | WEBSITE

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A Venezuelan and Latin American eatery that is the perfect spot for empanadas and arepas. They also serve the Venezuelan national dish – Pabellón, a rice and bean-based dish with beef. There is also a variation with a sunny-side-up egg.

Don’t miss the fresh juices, or juegos frescos, either. Fresh fruit juice is a staple in many South American meals.

 

 

7. Monty’s Blue Plate Diner

$$ | (608) 244-8505 | WEBSITE

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Monty’s offers a unique atmosphere on Madison’s east side, known for the Willy Street and Atwood neighborhoods which have funky shops that embody its eclectic vibe. A great place to go to eat and to shop.

Monty’s is in a retrofitted gas station that looks like a 50’s era diner. The diner offers a mix of traditional and hip food, and you can get your breakfast favorites all day long.

Known for unique vegetarian and vegan options, Monty’s has everything you can think of – from walnut burgers to their famous “Veggie Loaf of the Gods,” a twist on classic meatloaf.

 

 

8. Estacion Inka

$ | (608) 467-3010 | WEBSITE

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Estacion Inka is Peruvian food done well in a casual setting. Delicious and unique, Estacion Inka offers the best fries and yucca fries that you will find north of Chicago.

Their sandwiches are the perfect choice for lunch. If you are looking for a quintessential Peruvian dish – try the chicharron (pork) sandwich. They also make homemade smoothies that bring you the feeling of being in an open-air South American market.

 

 

9. Beef Butter BBQ

$$ | (608) 640-5000 | WEBSITE

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Beef Butter BBQ is the best Texas Smoked Brisket that you will have in Wisconsin – it was voted best of Madison in 2021. The business started as a food truck but is now located in a brick-and-mortar building on Madison’s North side.

If you are a big fan of sweet sides and delicious meat – Beef Butter BBQ is a must-visit on your list. The meat is juicy and tender, and the sides are tough to beat.

One customer said, “If I [were] given a last meal request, I would request Beef Butter BBQ!” If that is not high praise, I don’t know what is.

 

 

10. Tavernakaya

$$ | 608) 286-1548 | WEBSITE

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Located on Capitol Square in the center of Madison, Tavernakaya offers top-notch Asian food in a cozy atmosphere. Tavernakaya has the atmosphere of an izakaya, an informal Japanese bar where you can get a drink and settle in.

Offering small plates, sharable dishes, traditional entrees, ramen, and sushi, there is something here for every mood.

 

 

11. Everly

$$ | (608) 416-5242 | WEBSITE

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A neighborhood eatery on the Southside of Madison, Everly is an eclectic-styled restaurant offering excellent outdoor seating. You can find unique flavors here, from braised bulgogi short rib to calamari steak fries. There are good gluten-free and vegetarian options available as well.

Everly is a comfortable place to wind down at the end of a long workday or conference.

 

 

12. Graze

$$ | (608) 251-2700 | WEBSITE

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Graze is a gastropub that serves American-style food with Wisconsin fare. Chef Tory Miller works with local farmers to support the small farms that are the lifeblood of Wisconsin. Graze’s meat, poultry, dairy, and produce comes directly from this partnership.

Like many restaurants on our list, cheese takes center stage here, with cheese curds, charcuterie, and Wisconsin cheese trays.

 

 

13. Bassett Street Brunch Club

$$ | (608) 467-5051 | WEBSITE

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Bassett Street Brunch Club is one of Madison’s best spots to go for brunch. Their mix of breakfast and lunch dishes offers something for everyone in an environment designed for friends and conversation.

 

 

14. Naples 15

$$$ | (608) 250-6330 | WEBSITE

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Naples 15 is one of the top-rated restaurants in Madison, specializing in Southern Italian food.

The chef comes from a long history of Neapolitan cuisine that you can taste in every bite. Naples 15 is a great place to settle in for a delicious evening with a wide range of uniquely delicious pizzas. Their risotto is particularly notable.

They also have great outdoor seating to enjoy.

 

 

15. Ha Long Bay

$$ | 608) 255-2868 | WEBSITE

Best Restaurant in Madison, WI

Ha Long Bay is located on the famous Willy St, with window seating allowing you to check out the neighborhood. Here you can find Vietnamese, Thai, and Laotian cuisine, sure to satisfy you.

If you are looking for a filling dish, try the Pho or Pad Thai. They can be busy at peak mealtimes, but the food is well worth it.

 

 

16. The Great Dane

$$ | (608) 284-0000 | WEBSITE

Madison, WI Best Restaurants

A casual eatery and brewery very familiar to locals – The Great Dane is a classic pub with many Wisconsin eats (and drinks) to offer. You can’t go wrong with a strong roster of beers on tap.

The bar and pub have a strong Wisconsin atmosphere to provide a classic backdrop for your meal. If you are staying on the Westside, there is also a location at 357 Price Place in Hilldale.

 

 

In Summary

There you have it – a local’s list of the best restaurants in Madison, WI. Whether looking for casual eating or something fancier, Madison is a great place to live and visit.

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