When you say Wisconsin, the first things that come to mind are beer and cheese, but Madison has so much more to offer. At the end of the day, there are a few essential spots that anyone visiting or making a long awaited return trip should hit.
Here’s where you should be eating in Madison, according to two alumni who did a whole lot of that with our time there. On Wisconsin.
Every campus tour ends at Memorial Union, but it’s for the ice cream, not the famous terrace. The Daily Scoop is an outpost of Babcock Hall Dairy Store, the oldest Dairy bulding in the U.S. Pop in for some of Babcock’s best, full-fat flavors including Badger Blast, Union Utopia, and Blue Moon. A double scoop never hurt anyone.
You’ll know Ella’s Deli when you see it – it’s the one with the gigantic working carousel out front. Possibly the kitschiest place in town, Ella’s serves up an extensive menu with an emphasis on traditional Jewish deli food like matzo ball soup. An army of animated toys (including Harry Potter, the Beatles, and Michael Jordan) will fly overhead as you chomp on fried dill pickles. Don’t miss their impressive dessert offerings specializing in old-school favorites with a twist.
Eno Vino is well worth the off-campus trek, especially for dinners with a big group. The large menu has a bit of everything, including highlights of day boat scallops, calamari fries, and Korean short rib potstickers. Don’t miss out on their bruschetta menu either, particularly the brie and apple versions. Just be sure to take an Uber, their wine list has over 100 options and you won’t want to worry about driving home.
Gotham delivers everything and dare we say more than a New York City bagel shop. Located near Capitol Square, you can get classic sandwich combos like the Brighton Beach with smoked salmon or the Massapequa with roasted chicken breast. Be sure to get there early on the weekends to beat the rush of sorority girls in pajamas, and if you’re strategic, snag a spot to dine-in so you can get fresh bagel chips to go with your bagel.
Graze has quickly become a Madison staple. Located right on the Capitol Square, their all-glass facade provides beautiful views of the Capitol building at all times. But it’s not just scenery here. The Graze Burger is a standout in a city full of good burgers, and the Bloody Marys are some of the best in town. And then there are the cheese curds. We won’t name a single best cheese curd in town, but the ones at Graze are the perfect balance of gooey, crispy, and greasy.
You may not have been looking for a Kosher donut spot in Madison, but when you find Greenbush Bakery you’ll realize you needed one all along. Located on the west side of campus, Greenbush Bakery is a mom and pop shop with a small yet complete offering of dough. Classic jelly donuts line the shelves, sprinkled in with long johns, fritters, and Rabbi’s Delight. Amen to that. Grab a dozen on the way to any football game if you’re looking to make new friends.
Marigold Kitchen is all about lunch and brunch. They’ve really nailed the “basic-with-a-twist” concept, with deliciously unique sandwiches, fluffy omelettes, and excellent salads. You’d also be foolish to skip over the breakfast potatoes with a certain something that makes them unlike anything you’ve ever tasted. It’s the perfect brunch spot for family and friends, or just a productive afternoon with a coffee up by the Capitol.
Mediterranean Cafe, better known to Badgers as Med Cafe, is a student staple. This popular lunch spot reigns supreme for students who flock from class desperate to satisfy shawarma cravings. With reasonably priced bites and seriously addictive hummus, Med Cafe is the perfect spot to enjoy authentic home cooking in the heart of State Street. We suggest extra pita bread for that lamb platter you’re going to order.
Mickie’s Dairy Bar is a textbook greasy-spoon diner with lots of retro charm. The original 1950s menu still hangs on the wall, and the current menu hasn’t deviated too much from the old-school staples. A scrambler is what you want, but don’t worry about the calories because you’ll burn them off at Camp Randall while you Jump Around. Better yet, stop by the morning after game day or a night out when you’re too hungover to function, and binge on pancakes, Yanks (their signature hash browns), and a milkshake.
The Tornado Steak House is a Madison classic. It’s got a rustic, authentic Wisconsin supper club vibe and the best steaks in town. When you’re looking to splurge or the bill is on mom and dad, enjoy a bone-in tenderloin and the Coquille Saint Jacques. If you’re trying to dine on a college budget, come between 10 P.M. and 1 A.M. when the bar serves up a discounted menu with a steak sandwich that’s not to be missed.
You could get regular pizza at Ian’s, but that’s no fun. What you really want is their speciality slices, and one specialty slice in particular – mac n’ cheese pizza.
Reese Witherspoon’s role in Wild was all about a weary traveler finding herself. But hiking 2,600 miles is hard work. Luckily, Madisonians only have to travel to the eclectic Willy Street neighborhood to find themselves at the receiving end of one of the best and smelliest sandwiches out there – Bob’s Bad Breath Burger. This burger is a must, with a 1/2 lb. organic Wisconsin beef patty topped with cream cheese, caramelized onions, garlic, and other less pungent but equally flavorful ingredients. Mints not included.