A Foodies Guide to Madison, Wisconsin


Food & Drink




Surrounded by farms, dairies, cheese makers, wineries, microbreweries and distilleries, Madison is becoming a great restaurant destination with outstanding dining options featuring local farmers and producers. Our top finds include:

L’Etoile Restaurant: At 1 South Pinckney St., across from the State Capitol. This is a fine dining restaurant located in a stunning, contemporary space. The food and service are outstanding. I loved my Halibut entree, salad plus acorn squash creme brulee. The restaurant was started in 1976 and is today owned by Chef Tory MIller. Miller received the James Beard Award  in 2012 for Best Chef Midwest. 

They also have the hip Graze next door for more casual dining. They are open for lunch, dinner and brunch on Saturday and Sunday. 

Graft Madison: This is a new restaurant featuring Midwest-inspired small plates including veg and grains, fish and shellfish and meat plus a selection of large plates. It is located at 18 N. Carroll St. 

Cento: At 122 Mifflin St., this is a popular spot for Italian specialties. I had a wonderful meal with friends. I chose a pumpkin filled ravioli with two great sides, an asparagus with with pesto and roasted carrots drizzled with a yogurt sauce. 

Colectivo Coffee: This Milwaukee based coffee roaster has three locations in Madison. I tried two. The location on State was close to my hotel and the other on The Square at 25 S. Pinckney St. is another great option. Both offer food items in addition to  excellent coffee drinks.

Red Elephant Chocolate: Located just off The Square at 119 State St. this is a fun store and cafe serving handcrafted chocolates, desserts and ice creams plus beverages. I enjoyed the brewed cocoa bean tea for a needed pick-me-up.  

I had a great lunch experience at Hamilton’s on the Square at 101 N. Hamilton. Opened in August, 2015, this small, casual restaurant features soups, salads and sandwiches for lunch and a larger menu of starters, charcuterie and cheeses, and entrees for dinner.

The owner Josh is delightful and gave me other dining options in town, including Marigold Kitchen for breakfast and brunch, Sardine for brunch, Heritage Tavern, the Tornado Steakhouse for an authentic supper club experience and Tempest Oyster Bar for seafood.

Heritage Tavern: Based on Josh’s suggestion, I enjoyed brunch on Saturday at Heritage Tavern. It is a fun casual spot a block off the Square. I thought the lobster scramble was very good. I would recommend it on your trip. The dinner menu features small plates, large plates and family style options. 131 E. Mifflin.

Sunroom Cafe: At 638 State, this is a fun, casual spots for breakfast or brunch offering omelettes, egg dishes, pancakes and much more. They do serve lunch and dinner.

Local friends recommend Brasserie V for its French and Belgian-inspired menu including beers and wines, 5th Element Coffee on University,La Brioche True Food at 2862 University Ave., A Pig in a Fur Coat at 940 Williamson St., Underground Butcher at 811 Williamson St. for sandwiches and Forequarter at 708 E. Johnson St. All get great reviews.

Other suggestions include The Old Fashioned at 23 N. Pinckney St. and Harvest at 21 N. Pinckney St. featuring a modern interpretation of Italian, American and French cuisines; both are popular.

Candinas Chocolatier: At 11 West Main, across from the Capitol, this is a small chocolate shop featuring their exquisite chocolates truffles  made in Verona, WI.

Fromagination is an outstanding cheese chop at 12 S. Carroll St., across from the Capitol. They have a huge selection of sheep’s milk, cow’s milk, goat’s milk and mixed milk cheeses. They feature Wisconsin cheeses as well as organic, artisan and specialty cheeses. I loved that they also features, crackers, chocolates, beer and wines. I highly recommend the merlot cheese, a hard cheese soaked in merlot.

One of their employees recommended both Sujeo restaurant from 2014 and Estrellon from 2015 owned by Chef Tory Miller, the chef of L’etoile and Graze. Sujeo specializes in Pan-Asian cuisine and Estrellon features Spanish small plates and tapas.