14 Madison Wisconsin Restaurants So Good You’ll Want to Move There!

Madison Wisconsin capital

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Here’s a hot take – the Madison, Wisconsin restaurant scene goes way beyond cheese curds. Let’s start with the farm-to-table possibilities when you’re in the middle of the heartland with the nation’s largest producer-only Farmers Market. Throw in some international flair from being one of the ten most educated cities in the US and its proximity to Chicago (America’s third largest city). And finish it off with a good beer and some cheese curds, because – On, Wisconsin!

Don’t believe us? Check out our lineup of the best restaurants in Madison and our favorite dishes to see for yourself. We ordered them from breakfast to dinner, but you must pick your favorite.

Brunch – Centro

Cento Madison Wi
Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

Centro is a premier Italian restaurant in downtown Madison that combines Old World Italian traditions with modern techniques. We’re sure their lunch and dinners are just fabulous, but we had to come in for their Boozy Brunch special. For one low price, you get a pastry selection, two brunch cocktails, Bottomless Colectivo Drip Coffee or Letterbox Tea, and a choice of any brunch, lunch, or pizza entrée.

Breakfast Pizza

Centro Madison
Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

We loved the Breakfast Pizza with sausage, spinach, onion, egg, and hollandaise. If you’ve never had hollandaise as a pizza sauce, you’re missing out, and the crust was simply perfect.

Sardine

Sardine Restaurant Madison Wi
Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

From the Sardine Website – “Co-owners and chefs, John Gadau and Phillip Hurley, culinary careers span from their native hometown of Chicago to the restaurant culture of California

The decision to move both of their families to Madison, Wisconsin to start a joint venture happened in 2000 with the launching of Marigold Kitchen, a breakfast and lunch restaurant one block off of the Capital Square. When a raw space in the historical tobacco/icehouse Machinery Row became available Gadau and Hurley seized the opportunity to open their next restaurant, Sardine, a lakeside bistro and bar, in the spring of 2006.”

Croque Monsieur

Sardine Restaurant Madison
Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

We went with the Croque Monsieur because it features locally sourced Wisconsin ham and gruyère on freshly baked bread. The béchamel was good enough that we had to dip our frites in to get every last drop.

Michelangelo’s

Michelangelo's Coffee Madison Wi
Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

We’ve always said that friends don’t let friends drink Starbucks, and neither does Michelangelo’s founder – Sam Chehade. He has been proudly serving only fair trade, socially conscious coffee to the downtown crowd since 1977.

Fair Trade, Socially Conscious Coffee

Michelangelo's Madison
Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

We came for the coffee but wished we had room for all the delicious pastries. Next time, for sure, because the only thing that could have made our cup of joe better was a side of fresh pastry.

Thirsty Goat

The Thirsty Goat Madison Wi
Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

The Thirsty Goat is an upbeat brewpub offering draft beers and BBQ in nearby Fitchburg that was a perfect stop on the Cannonball Loop Bike Ride. We loved the oversized patio, and the generous portions gave us plenty of fuel for the ride back.

Wisco Burger and Curds

The Thirsty Goat Madison
Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

We got our badger on with a Wisco Burger paired with cheese curds. The Wisco is a beef burger topped with a beer-cheese sauce, bacon, fried onions, and jalapeños served with fresh-cut fries. The cheese curds were a delightful combination of batter and breading, so you get the best of both camps.

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Graze

Graze Madison Wi
Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

Graze was opened in 2010 by James Beard Award winner Chef Tory Miller. It serves seasonally inspired dishes with sweeping views of the State Capitol.

Bulgogi Bibimbap

Graze Madison
Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

We have heard how the Graze menu highlights comfort food that celebrates Chef Tory’s Wisconsin and Korean heritage through the use of our region’s incredible farms and producers, so we had to try the Bulgogi Bibimbap. It was as delicious as it was beautiful.

Monty’s Blue Plate Diner

Monty's Blue Plate Diner Madison Wi
Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

Monty’s Blue Plate Diner is a restaurant retro-fitted into an old gas station for a “50s-diner-meets-hipster” atmosphere. Coincidently, this is also how we’d describe the Atwood neighborhood you’ll find it in. They offer breakfast all day and an astounding variety of vegan comfort food.

Mushroom Burger, The Ultimate Mac and Cheese, Fat Elvis Shake

Monty's Blue Plate Diner Madison
Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

The mushroom burger was solid diner food, but OMG the mac and cheese earned both the definite article and superlative in its name with three cheese, onions, and bread crumbs. The “Fat Elvis” had us “all shook up” with vanilla ice cream, peanut butter, sliced bananas, and chocolate syrup, but we had them booze it up because that’s how we rock and roll.

Tipsy Cow

Tipsy Cow Madison Wi
Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

Tipsy Cow, located just off Capitol Square, has been the downtown destination for great corner tavern food for over a decade. It was a little too cool for us to sit on the outdoor patio with one of the best views of the Capitol, but that didn’t stop us from ordering a beer or two.

Local Goat Cheese Curds

The Tipsy Cow Madison
Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

Yes, there’s a distinctly dairy scene going on, but we decided to give our lactase a break and order the goat cheese curds for a change. They started with fresh, local goat cheese battered in New Glarus Brewing Company’s Spot Cow beer (sold only in Wisconsin). They were extra local and delicious.

The Old Fashioned

The Old Fashioned Madison Wi
Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

You think you may be in Wisconsin the moment you step into The Old Fashioned. It looks like a cross between an Elks Club and a set from Happy Days. When you order their namesake state drink, you know for sure. It’s made with Korbel brandy instead of whiskey, with roots dating back to the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

Wisconsin Beer Cheese Soup, Brat, Wisconsin Fondue

The Old Fashioned Madison
Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

The Sheboygan’s Grand Champion Miesfeld Market bratwurst was served with raw onions, pickles, and brown mustard on a buttered and toasted Highway Bakery hard roll – super solid. The Wisconsin Fondue featured an all-Wisconsin “secret recipe” with Madison Sourdough toast points. But the beer cheese soup was so simple but so yummy that it stole the show.

Ian’s Pizza – Mac and Cheese Pizza

Ians Pizza via Flickr
Photo Credit: Flickr.

Everywhere we looked, we saw Ian’s Pizza boxes, and everybody raved about how they bring affordable, craft-quality pizza to the people. We heard how they create exciting recipes incorporating the finest local ingredients to make the best NY-style, hand-tossed pizza to hit your tastebuds. But, truth be told, we were too full to partake.

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Cheese Curd Showdown - The Battle for the Best Curds in Madison Wi.

Even though we didn’t try it, everyone swears by the Mac and Cheese Pizza. They also recommend ordering by the slice so you get more variety. The Maui-Wowie, Macho Nacho, and Drunken Ravioli look pretty dang good, too.

Heritage Tavern

Heritage Tavern Madison Wi
Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

If you have but one meal in Madison, make it Heritage Tavern. They offer upscale farm-to-table dining in downtown Madison with globally inspired cuisine featuring local Wisconsin ingredients.

Chef Daniel Fox’s lengthy resume includes cooking at some of Chicago’s most beloved restaurants (Everest, Spring Restaurant) and abroad at restaurants in Austria and France. Fox was Madison Magazine’s 2013 Chef of the Year and a James Beard semi-finalist for the Midwest region in 2015, 2016, and 2017.

Peppercorn Crusted Strip Loin and Braised Short Rib

Heritage Tavern Madison
Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

This is a dish that should be eaten slowly. You start with the potato bone, a faux bone marrow dish made with potatoes and braised short ribs. The blue cheese espuma (vegetable foam) was perfectly blended with a peppercorn-crusted strip loin that was so tender yet still a little carbonized. I don’t know how you could top this dish with anything other than locally sourced foraged mushrooms, spinach, radish, and carrots.

Fairchild Restaurant

Fairchild Restaurant Madison Wi
Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

It’s been hard to get a reservation at Fairchild since Chefs Itaru Nagano and Andrew Kroeger took home the award for Best Chef Midwest at the James Beard Awards last June (2023). Do yourself a favor and keep trying. It’s sophisticated, without being stuck up, and oh-so-delicious.

Seven Seeds Chicken

Fairchild Restaurant Madison
Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

We went with the Seven Seeds Chicken. Crispy baked chicken and cabbage dumplings topped in an acorn squash puree with Brussels sprouts and walnuts. It was all the flavors of fall and a perfect tribute to Madison and Chef Nagano’s Japanese heritage.

Merchant

Merchant Restaurant Madison Wi
Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

For over a decade, Merchant has blended industrial chic with locally sourced ingredients to serve seasonal offerings steeped in the classics in the heart of Madison’s thriving downtown.

Crispy Fried Chicken Sandwich

Merchant Madison
Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

The crispy fried chicken sandwich was a tasty treat with jalapeno crema, napa cabbage slaw, and pickled vegetables served up on a fresh brioche bun.

Harvey House

The Harvey House Madison Wi
Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

“Hidden behind Madison’s Historic Train Depot, The Harvey House is a celebration of Wisconsin’s iconic supper clubs.”  Just what is a supper club you ask? According to Wisconsin Supper Clubs – “Wisconsin’s supper clubs started as taverns, resorts, and dancehalls where fried chicken and perch were served along with a beer. Eventually, these places transformed their food and decor, and as a result, the classic menu we know and love came into being: Friday fish fry, Saturday prime rib, Sunday broasted chicken, and ribs.”

New York Strip Steak

The Harvey House Madison
Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

Since we were at a supper club, we kept it simple with a New York Strip Steak. There’s an old saying – it’s a classic for a reason!

Eno Vino

Eno Vino Madison Wi
Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

We loved Eno Vino for the delicious small plates and the outstanding view from the rooftop patio. It’s the perfect place to grab a drink with friends before hitting the town or unwind after a busy day.

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Creme Brûlée, Chocolate Martini, Espresso Martini

Eno Vino Madison
Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

You can tell by our choices that we went with “unwind.” You can’t go wrong with creme brûlée and dessert martinis.

Parting Thoughts on Madison Restaurants

The Thirsty Goat Madison Wi patio
Photo Credit: Jenn Coleman.

Madison has the most parks per capita in the nation and is a platinum-rated biking city with over 200 miles of bike trails. The 2022 American Fitness Index ranks Madison as the second-fittest city in the country. We have a theory that they’re all just working out to make more room for all the delicious farm-to-table Madison restaurants!

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