21 New Madison Restaurants You’ll Love

It was a good year for new restaurants. Here are our favorites.


PHOTO BY MATTHEW ENGELHART

Elevated pub grub at Next Door Brewing on the east side.

The restaurant industry is tough. Tougher still is getting on your feet the first year in business. Despite the challenges, the year 2013 was a good one for new food, marked by new-to-Madison ethnic cuisine from Venezuela, the Philippines and Morocco and welcome additions to the microbrewery and barbeque scenes. We witnessed the opening of one of the most buzzed-about restaurants in years, and added another coffee and sandwich shop to the local lineup. While many restaurants came and went this year, the following twenty-one won us over, proving that no matter how high the restaurant-to-resident ratio grows in this food-loving city, there’s always room for one more.  

608 Restaurant and Bar
212 State St., 250-5150
Out with the oak tree, in with the burgers. 608 took over the old Paul’s Club spot (the bar moved up a few storefronts) and serves Wisco comfort classics like paninis, curds and fish fry. They also whip up spiked milkshakes, such as the cappuccino with chocolate and vanilla ice cream blended with Kahlua. It’s a good spot to try if you find yourself hungry while strolling State Street post-farmers’ market or on game day. $$

Bassett Street Brunch Club
444 W. Johnson St., 467-5051
Occupying the ground floor of the new Hampton Inn near the UW campus, Brunch Club churns out morning meal favorites throughout the day. Look for savory egg dishes like the namesake omelet and from-the-griddle treats such as lemon ricotta pancakes. Be sure to try the homemade donuts. Comfort food entrées and sandwiches are also available from midday on. Fans of Monty’s Blue Plate Diner will have plenty to love at this new Food Fight restaurant—Monty’s former chef Matt Pace now runs the Brunch Club kitchen. $

Colectivo Coffee
25 S. Pinckney St., 255-0474
Though it’s a Milwaukee transplant, Colectivo Coffee, formerly Alterra Coffee Roasters, fits right in here in downtown Madison, as evidenced by the constant throng of caffeine-seeking students, freelancers and businessfolk since its April opening. Whether there for the coffee, tea, craft beer or food (try the veggie burrito!), spend time in the indoor/outdoor room at the front of the café. In good weather, expansive windows slide open, exposing the room to the sidewalk hustle and bustle. $


PHOTO BY LAUREN RICHARDS

Crandall’s
334 State St., 231-2000
After twenty years of takeout on University Avenue, Crandall’s moved back downtown this summer, taking over the dine-in State Street space Chautara recently vacated. Husband-wife owners Ivan and Patricia Pimentel introduced fare from their native Peru to their otherwise Americana menu. Among the South American stars is the lomo saltado—a generous portion of sautéed hangar steak, onions, tomatoes and scallions served with homemade fries and rice. And the food isn’t the only upgrade at this new Crandall’s; the space itself, with dark wooden tables and red linen napkins, looks pretty spiffy, too. $$

Crostini Sandwiches 
231 North St., 241-4284
Crostini is worth going out of your way to find. Tucked in a mostly residential neighborhood on the near-east side by Dexter’s Pub, the sandwich shop isn’t fancy. The menu setup is familiar—wraps, paninis, salads and soups, with the popular and ever-accommodating “pick two” option. But what makes Crostini stand out is quality ingredients and excellent service. Add to that delivery and takeout options and this place is one deliciously convenient deli. $

Grampa’s Pizzeria
1374 Williamson St., 283-9580
For the thin-crust-loving, don’t miss the newest gourmet ’za joint to hit the near-east side. Pizzas are handmade with local ingredients, with daily specials popping up to reflect what’s in season—an impressive feat when the given menu already boasts such creations as the Barberini with ricotta, Calabrian chiles, watercress and honey. And Grampa’s doesn’t just do pizza. Check out the salads or, for a real treat, the pork confit. Read more about Grampa’s on here. $$

Heritage Tavern
131 E. Mifflin St., 283-9500
Venturing to Madison’s new fine dining hotspot needn’t be a luxury. The entrées are indeed special-occasion worthy and represent some of the best food in the city, but Heritage also serves an impressive amount of reasonably priced snacks and appetizers, plus a late-night menu. Not to be missed in this category is the ham sandwich. Though it gets an “old fashioned” billing on the menu, it’s hardly passé; with aged provolone cheese, chili aioli, pickled red onion and top-notch meat surrounded by a soft bun, all for only $9, this sammy raises the bar for ham and cheese everywhere. Read more about Heritage Tavern here. $$$

Jalapeño Mexican Grill  
1821 S. Park St., 561-8211
It’s nothing fancy, but this South Park Street restaurant will satisfy your craving for Mexican grub. Staples like tacos, tortas and chimichangas fill the colorful menu, and fresh complimentary chips and salsa and friendly service elevate the whole experience. For the meat-averse, be warned: there aren’t many vegetarian options here. $

Editor's Note: Jalapeno Mexican Grill is now Sol Azteca Mexican Grill

JB’s Eat-a-Bite BBQ
2209 S. Park St., 251-2209
JB’s opened to rave reviews from ’que fans. Offerings are robust and include everything from ribs to jambalaya to Italian beef and sausage to catfish. Sides are worth a nod too, especially the pan-fried okra and candied yams. Bring your appetite to this restaurant off the Beltline, or grab your grub to go. $

La Taguara
3502 E. Washington Ave., 721-9100
Madison’s only Venezuelan restaurant is as authentic as it is charming. The interior is filled with posters and artwork promoting its home country, and the staff is some of the friendliest, and most helpful, in town. For the food, try the Venezuelan staple arepa, a doughy bun that can come plain or filled with a number of ingredients, or the cachapa con queso. Don’t skip the green guasacaca sauce. $$

Layla’s Persian Food  
141 S. Butler St., 216-4511
Layla’s sits quietly below the Madison Hostel, in the spot where Café Costa Rica used to be. A tailored menu focuses on authentic Persian dishes, like stews Ghrormeh sabzi, which features beef, beans and herbs, and fesenjoon, with chicken and a walnut and pomegranate sauce. With only four tables inside, the cozy restaurant evokes the feeling of dining inside someone’s home. $$

Mabuhay Philippine Cuisine
1272 S. Park St., 255-0515
Adventurous eater? Don’t miss Mabuhay. The casual South Park Street eatery serves authentic Filipino dishes like lumpia, (fresh or fried spring rolls) and lechón (whole roasted pig) in a buffet style for lunch and dinner. Food is homemade and often unfamiliar to the uninitiated, but don’t let that intimidate. The staff is friendly and the dishes—representing everything from sweet desserts to beef tapas—are deliciously comforting. $

Marrakesh Restaurant
5510 University Ave., 238-7111
Open since January, Marrakesh Restaurant is Madison’s only source for sit-down Moroccan cuisine. Owner Youssef Amraoui peppers his menu with Middle Eastern staples plus traditional Moroccan dishes like tagine, a savory stew-like dish, and bastilles, a phyllo dough pie. The décor is warm and inviting, with most of the servingware, furniture and art procured on a trip back to Amraoui’s native Morocco. $$

Next Door Brewing Co. 
2439 Atwood Ave., 729-3683
It may be a brewery, but Next Door’s food offerings deserve just as much credit as the suds. Most menu items are made in-house and sourced locally, right down to the sauce. It doesn’t hurt that chef Kevin Rikli has some serious street cred, having put in time at Captain Bill’s, Nostrano and most recently Tempest Oyster Bar. We recommend the yam crisps appetizer, a burger or the veggie tostadas. $

Novanta
8452 Old Sauk Rd., Middleton, 831-7740
Don’t be misled by the no-frills interior. This place has some seriously good Italian grub. Co-owned by Cafe Porta Alba owner Vince Pugliese and chef Nick Mattioli, Novanta churns out Neapolitan pizza, salads, pastas and paninis. But you’d be missing out if you didn’t hit up the fresh mozzarella bar. You get your choice of house-made Wisconsin cow, Italian buffalo or Italian smoked buffalo mozzarella, plus accouterments ranging from prosciutto to pesto and cherry tomatoes to spicy salami. $

PHOTO BY LAUREN RICHARDS

Pasta Nuovo 
1900 Cayunga St., Ste. 101, Middleton, 821-4700
Out with Tutto and in with Nuovo—this new Italian bistro took the former’s Middleton digs this summer. With a warm but expansive interior, Pasta Nuovo is fitting for both date night and group outings. Traditional Italian fare gets a facelift with lighter entrées and modern presentation. Pay special attention to the wood-fired flatbreads and the special pasta dish of the night. Most items are made with local and, when possible, organic ingredients. $$

Paul’s Pel’meni  
203 W. Gorham St., 354-1713
So simple but so good, the dumplings at Paul’s Pel’meni are the stuff of comfort. A second coming of the mid-2000s State Street restaurant called simply Pel’meni, this newly opened outpost offers just two kinds of Russian dumplings—potato and beef. Choose one or get a mix, but do yourself a favor and order “the works” on top. The blend of curry powder, cilantro and sweet chili sauce adds flavor and punch, but sour cream on the side provides cool respite. Let the pel’meni mania continue. $

Sol’s on the Square
117 E. Mifflin St., 251-0116
A great addition to central city dining, Sol’s on the Square is Madison’s third Korean restaurant. Noodle dishes are filling and flavorful with many vegetarian options. Also excellent is the bulgogi, a Korean-style barbeque dish. The beef is served as an entrée but can be found in other dishes as well, like the GimBap, a sushi-like roll with pickled radish, fish cake, crab meat, carrot, spinach and egg—all ingredients found in many of Sol’s dishes. $$

The Spot 
827 E. Johnson St., 251-7768
The stretch of East Johnson Street from Blount to Brearly is quickly becoming a corridor of cool. Beyond the clothing stores, yoga studio and music shop, the impressive food lineup includes Forequarter, Johnson Public House, Madtown Pizza and, newest to the roster, the Spot. The classy interior is an upgrade from former tenant Mildred’s, and the menu reflects a sophisticated blend of European and American fare. Don’t miss the duck sausage with orange-cherry chutney. $$

Surco Peruvian  
515 Cottage Grove Rd., 467-6814
Originally a Library Mall food cart, Surco Peruvian is quickly winning over Madison foodies. Dishes are flavorful and beautifully presented; the interior is inviting; the service is friendly and accommodating. Start with the ceviche mixto, which effortlessly integrates shrimp, octopus, calamari and whitefish. And the aji de gallina—a mix of shredded chicken, yellow chilies and cheese over rice and potatoes—is a must. $$

That BBQ Joint 
1511 Williamson St., 709-1300
Though the original intention was to be strictly takeout, Willy Street’s That BBQ Joint now does a pretty solid ten-seat dine-in business as well. At this new east-side spot, meat options ranging from brisket to ribs to chicken come sans sauce unless you order a choice of regular, spicy or mustard. We’d go with spicy. $

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