Dining and Drink

36 Hotspots Around the Capitol Square

Host to many a festival and celebration, including Art Fair on the Square, Taste of Madison and the weekly Dane County Farmers' Market, the Capitol Square (and its adjacent blocks) is also party to delicious dining destinations representing cuisines from all over the world. From as far away as Japan (Red Sushi) to as close as, well, Wisconsin (The Old Fashioned, among many others), the Capitol building is the perfect backdrop to this mix of tastes. So take a trip downtown and you'll be able to find anything that fits your mood, from rustic Italian cuisine to fresh seafood.   

108 King St., 255-4343  A comfortable bistro with a contemporary feel, 43 North has a refined interior that reflects its elegant menu. Pick out a bar snack, like the roasted dates with herbed goat cheese and hazelnut pesto, or customize your own cheese plate with selections from Fayette Creamery, Holland's Family, Roth Kase, Saxon Creamery and Sartori. The salads and entrées are available in small or large plates, for either a communal experience or solo tasting. The nicely edited menu includes a good mix of meat and seafood choices, including the succulent Wagyu steak with golden beet, horseradish crème fraîche and red potato, or the scallops with shiitake mushroom, spinach, tomato, fennel and garlic powder. It's an ideal spot to experience Shinji Muramoto's take on a different genre of cuisine besides sushi. $$$$

123 E. Main St., 256-4141 A solid choice for people-watching on the patio during warm months, this corner spot is known as a service industry hangout. It's also pretty cool to know that you're eating your meal in a building from 1847—otherwise known as the city's oldest commercial building. The no-frills menu offers made-from-scratch soups, crisp salads and deli-style sandwiches—all homemade, and all good. Take your pick of twelve beers on draft and sip it outside, inside or downstairs in the loungey lower level that's got a dartboard, pool table and another bar. $

127 W. Washington Ave., 268-6264  Every one of the six Barriques locations has a distinct personality that reflects the neighborhood around it. Starbucks this is not. Barriques off the Square has a bookish, eclectic vibe. It's one of the few places in the city that celebrates coffee and wine and pairs them together beautifully with delicious sandwiches, like the Cuban with roast pork, ham, Roth Kase Gruyère, mustard and dill pickles on a La Brea telera roll. It's a warm gathering spot that's nice for meeting up with a friend or taking a little alone time to catch up with a book and a sip of Joe. $ BOM

Bluephie's Downtown Deli 222 W. Washington Ave., 661-3663 It might have "deli" in the name, but this takeout place offers much more than the old standbys like tuna salad (though to be fair, it does have a tuna salad sandwich). Mouthwatering breakfast choices include a quiche of the day, sandwiches, organic steel-cut oats and perhaps a more indulgent option—a breakfast quesadilla with fried eggs, chorizo, cheddar jack and black beans on a tortilla. Hot sammies, burritos, deli sandwiches, soups and salads round out the menu; sandwiches can be paired with a choice of pasta, potato or bean salad or whole fruit. $ Editor's note: Bluephie's Downtown Deli is closed as of September 26, 2014. remains open. 

101 N. Hamilton St., 255-2255 You'll know you've come to the right spot when you see the stained glass window resembling a marlin's dorsal fin. Inside this cozy corner spot (which was historically once a fish market, natch) find perfect portions of mussels, oysters, shellfish, tuna, walleye, salmon … need we go on? Tip: For a delicious meal starter, try the famous curried crab soup—this creamy concoction with a hint of sweetness and spice and a wonderful meld of flavors is award-winning. $$$$

127 N. Hamilton St., 204-0474 Coffee snobs take note: This is the place to go for quality java. Tucked away around the corner from the Children's Museum is this coffee-cum-crepe joint that has a sleek, modern feel but is down-home in its use of local purveyors for coffee (Kickapoo) and ingredients (Capri Cheese, Sprouting Acres, Garden to Be) for its tasty menu items. The rotating crepe menu is constantly changing and features only the freshest ingredients. $

7 W. Main St., 255-2015 This spacious, two-story tavern that's an ode to all things Ireland genuinely feels like a place you'd encounter on the Emerald Isle. The convivial atmosphere with mismatched chairs, friendly bartenders and a solid menu of American and Irish favorites adds to the appeal of this relaxed tavern. The menu is meat-heavy, but the black bean burger topped with smoked mozzarella, guacamole, pickled red onions, lettuce and tomato is a nice departure. Live music acts pepper the entertainment lineup every week, including traditional Irish music by the Currach during Friday happy hour. $–$$

115 State St., 230-7999 This spot-on replica of a Northwoods lodge is a fun stop if you want to get away in the middle of the city. Light knotty pine paneling is the gig here, with a huge Wisconsin river rock fireplace in the middle of the dining room decked out with a moose head. Naturally, Buck & Badger's specializes in comfort food. The grilled cheese tomato fondue is an excellent appetizer, or if you'd rather go traditional with a twist, order the cheese curd fritters. Since we're going with cheese here, the grilled cheese with fig jam and apples is also a lovely bite, paired with crispy, salty French fries. And you can choose from six different types of burgers: boar, lamb, bison, two types of beef and veggie. Wash it all down with a choice of twenty-three craft beers on tap. $

107 State St., 310-1010  This cozy tavern was built to resemble a turn-of-the-century beer hall/tied house, which makes sense, since Capital Tap Haus specializes in serving Capital suds. Beyond that, the menu features elevated pub food, most of which is made either with Capital Brewery beer as an ingredient or with a suggested beer pairing. Because if you're going to drink a beer, you might as well eat it, too. The Tap Haus Reuben is a dependable choice, with corned beef, tangy sauerkraut and thousand island on thick marble rye, or the fish fry (that's served every day) with Supper Club-battered haddock and fries, coleslaw and tartar sauce. Might as well wash it down with a Supper Club, too. $–$$

122 W. Mifflin St., 284-9378 Food Fight's newest eatery occupies a gorgeously appointed space on the backside of the 100 block of State Street (conveniently right across the street from Overture Center) that boasts exposed brick walls, original tilework, 1920s-era stained glass windows and glittering chandeliers. The airy front bar is flanked by large windows that make sipping your handcrafted cocktail a buzzy experience. Nibble on traditional Italian favorites like pizza with burrata, San Marzano tomatoes, Castelvetrano olives, oregano, tomato sauce and fermented chili peppers. The pollo al mattone with salsa verde, grilled broccoli rabe and lemon is superb. If you're up for it, book the chef's table, which seats six, that's actually located in the kitchen. For $85 per person (tack on $35 each if you'd like wine pairings), your group can watch chef Michael Pruett and his team prepare your seven-course meal. $$$–$$$$

25 S. Pinckney St., 255-0474 When this Milwaukee-based coffee roaster's first Madison spot opened up, it was instantly welcomed with open arms by worker bees, students and everyone in between. The homey café boasts a garage-style front window that spills the eclectic vibe out onto the street. Pick something off the all-day breakfast menu (potato bacon burrito or quiche of the day, anyone?) or a fresh selection from the lunch menu—most served on fresh-baked breads from the in-house Troubadour Bakery based out of the Bay View location. $ BOM

20 W. Mifflin St., 256-1600 When this gastropub settled in on the Square it was yet another reason to celebrate our city's impeccable taste in food. Comfort food favorites always have an elevated twist here, like the lobster mac with lobster meat tossed in cavatappi and a mascarpone cheese sauce with fried leeks, or the turkey sandwich with roasted turkey, apple-pear slaw, Gouda and thousand island served on rye. The four-page beer menu ensures that even if you came here every day, you'd have a heck of a time repeating the same brew. So try a new one, since the bartenders can easily give you a tutorial on what you might like. $$

114 E. Main St., 283-4202 This fast-casual takeout joint is tailor-made for a quick and healthy breakfast or lunch stop. With a robust selection of breakfast items (egg sandwiches, omelettes, scramblers) and the city's only yogurt bar, you can kick off your day with a nourishing start. The salad bar boasts three types of salad greens, fifteen toppings and six homemade dressings for a customized lunch experience. Or order a homemade soup (four to five choices are offered daily), sandwich or rotisserie chicken for a little more substantial grub. The restaurant is open only on weekdays for breakfast and lunch to cater to the nine-to-five crowd. $

118 State St., 280-9999 This spacious two-story ode to Mexico has a lengthy menu—do you want the grilled Mahi Mahi tacos with pineapple salsa, red cabbage slaw, cilantro lime rice and pinto beans, or the plato mixto with carnitas tacos, a mini cheese quesadilla and a roasted chipotle-marinated shredded chicken quesadilla (among just two choices)? I suppose you can't go wrong with either—and you'll want to pair it with a cocktail, like the margarita picante, with fresh cucumber and jalapeño muddled with simple syrup and fresh-squeezed lime juice, mixed with bacon- and pepper-infused Milagro tequila and Patron Citronge. Stop in on a Friday for the all-you-can-eat fish tacos. $–$$

117 Martin Luther King Blvd., 467-3130 This cosmopolitan burger palace is sleek and chic and doesn't take itself too seriously. In fact, their kegged cocktails (which are exactly what they sound like) ensure that. If you like the zing of ginger, we'd recommend giving the Shot in the Dark 2.0 a try. All burgers are just $8, and they're good. Like the Farmhouse, with Monterey jack, a fried green tomato, bacon, baby greens and tomato jam. Or the Sunrise, with a fried egg, pepperjack, tomato jam and shoestring potatoes. Of their fries, the sharp cheddar and green onion are the best, though the blue cheese and bacon version are a close second. If you're looking for somewhere off the beaten path (though technically still on the beaten path since we are talking right off the Square here), DLUX won't disappoint. $ BOM

122 State St., 250-1998 The showpiece here is the 1910 Brunswick mahogany bar that welcomes patrons to sit down and take a load off. This place is an ode to Wisconsin, with a homey atmosphere and photos of Native American and historic Wisconsin life. The restaurant's forte is burgers, with five choices to tempt you, like the delicious bourbon barbecue version, with a fried onion, bourbon barbecue sauce, bacon, ranch and cheddar. Other Wisconsin-themed standards include the meaty Reuben, grilled cheese and Friday fish fry. You might like the nostalgic (read: inexpensive) drink prices, which are a nice throwback, too. $$ 

111 Martin Luther King Blvd., 255-6000 The first Wisconsin outpost of this famous Chicago chain, Francesca's is famous for its flavorful, rustic Italian food and handwritten menus that lend a personalized, homey touch. Dishes are authentic but don't stray too exotic, which makes Francesca's all the more approachable. Menus also change often, but expect to find a nice selection of pizzas, pastas, fish and meat entrées—the pollo arrosto alla Romano being one savory option, with a roasted half chicken, garlic, shallots, rosemary, lemon and olive oil, served with a delicious side of roasted potatoes. $$–$$$

121 E. Main St., 294-1100 Park Street's not the only area you'll find an authentic Mexican joint—this quaint little cantina with a killer sidewalk patio celebrates fresh, flavorful entrées. You'll find your typical burrito-quesadilla-taco menu here, but the food is good and the service is solid. A teeny bar slings drinks and the waitstaff is friendly and jovial. The free chips and salsa do not disappoint. $

112 E. Mifflin St., 467-7642 Perfectly suited to its flagship off-the-Square location, Gotham's the neighborhood bagel shop for a true Big Apple taste. Pick from twelve hand-rolled varieties that are baked fresh daily using in-house recipes. Come lunchtime, sandwiches tip their hat to NYC with names like Brighton Beach and the Yellow C.A.B. The Original Spanish Harlem is a particularly piquant take on a Cubano sammie, with shredded pork, spicy ham, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard. $

1 S. Pinckney St., 251-2700 The casual sister restaurant to L'Etoile, Tory Miller's gastropub concept was perfectly suited for its Square debut back in 2010 and still is today. It's the kind of meeting place where foodies and nonfoodies alike can converse and nosh in an elevated atmosphere with a relaxed feel. Belly up to the concrete bar for a craft cocktail, an intriguing beer selection or a glass of wine from the keg—after all, the two-for-one happy hour can't be beat. Order a few apps to share, like the excellent vodka-battered cheese curds or fried pickles. A perennial dinner favorite is the spicy bibimbap—a nod to Miller's Korean heritage. $–$$$ BOM 

21 N. Pinckney St., 255-6075 A foodie's dream come true, you can't argue with the accolades that this Madison institution has garnered—everyone from Gourmet magazine to the New York Times to the James Beard Foundation has recognized its culinary gifts. Besides L'Etoile, it was one of the first serious farm-to-table restaurants in the city—and a harbinger of things to come. Start with an exquisitely prepared salad with a dash of color or some pan-seared scallops or tuna tartare. Menus change with the seasons, but diners will find, for example, flawlessly portioned dinners of skate wing, rabbit, beef and pork chops—all beautifully arranged on your plate for visual delight. For such highbrow cuisine the restaurant is surprisingly low-key, and diners appreciate its down-to-earth vibe—which is highly appropriate for this ode to farmers' hard work. $$$$

131 E. Mifflin St., 283-9500 Ever since chef Dan Fox opened Heritage Tavern last summer, the sophisticated gastropub has impressed discerning diners with its excellent execution of globally inspired, locally sourced cuisine. Fox whips up such creations as duck breast prepared with a kombucha glaze, braised endive, glazed carrots and radish, fingerling potatoes and some duck confit. And that's just one dish. The menu at Heritage always includes a few pork dishes with meat from heritage hogs Fox raises himself, and even the most basic of ingredients get the special treatment—why have fish sauce when you can have truffled fish sauce? Don't discount Heritage when it comes to late-night scavenging, either. The old-fashioned ham sandwich or fried meatballs are just what you need after a show or a night on the town. $$$ BOM

100 State St., 257-9248 Long known as a bartime stop for the college crowd, Ian's on State is most certainly for those in the post-college set too. Sort of like going to the Union or taking a tour of the Capitol, you haven't visited Madison or lived here until you've tried the mac and cheese slice. Unlike your standard pizza chain, Ian's uses farm-fresh local ingredients, which is what makes their 'za so tasty. Any specialty slice or pizza you order here will be good, whether it's the cheesy potato with ranch, the smoked brisket and tots or the penne alfredo pie. The monthly pizza specials read like a particularly curious menu scramble, with pies like the ratatouille, chili cheese frito, chicken burrito and grilled chicken peppercorn salad as some of the choices. $–$$$ BOM

130 S. Pinckney St., 257-8325 The promise of white linen tablecloths is not an empty one here—Johnny Delmonico's is the real deal. This sophisticated steakhouse with a tasteful atmosphere offers mouthwatering steaks, a tightly edited seafood selection and rich entrées like pasta Bolognese. You're not watching your sodium counts here, so get the rich French onion soup topped with Gruyère for a pre-meal warmup. When you order your steak, opt for an enhancement like bacon-wrapped, au poivre or Oscar style, and you won't be sorry. Another nice touch is that steaks include a potato side in the price—unheard of at most à la carte steakhouses. You'll want to top off your evening with a selection from the separate Scotch menu, like a nice pour of Glenfiddich or Glenmorangie. $$$$ BOM

1 S. Pinckney St. 251-0500 A shining "star" in our culinary scene, this airy spot owned and lovingly tended to by James Beard winner Tory Miller is a gustatory delight from start to finish. Think of it as a symphony concert: No detail goes unnoticed here, from the delightful prelude that's provided upon sitting down (on a recent visit, it was a lovely cheese gougère) to the mellow relaxation when you sip on your uniquely blended craft cocktail or wine selection that the sommelier will personally help you select. Back in June, Miller introduced a prixe-fixe menu, with the option of a seven- or three-course menu, though diners can still order à la carte. The offerings rotates with what's in season and available from local purveyors (Miller forages the farmers' market every Saturday to make that so), so there's no pinpointing what will be on the menu when you're there—always local fish or game made with artisanal ingredients, of course—but you know that it will be good. $$$$ BOM

119 King St., 229-0900 Elevated comfort food is the best way to describe the offerings at this downtown institution that anchors the King/Doty Street intersection. This classy joint echoes its comfort food menu with comfortable surroundings: Leather banquettes are spread throughout the exposed brick restaurant for lounging, and mood lighting keeps the place comfortably dim. Bartenders mix a good cocktail with house-infused liquors, and you'll want to complement your libation with a good plate—perhaps the chicken pesto flatbread, a tasty combo of mozzarella and feta cheese sprinkled with pulled smoked chicken, pesto sauce and red onion. $$

118 S. Pinckney St., 661-5559 A perennial right-off-the-Square favorite, this breakfast-brunch-lunch hotspot has never cooled in popularity. The cheerful atmosphere here is perfect for brightening your day, so order something that'll make your stomach happy too—like the applewood smoked bacon, Parmesan, spinach, tomatoes and cream cheese omelette, the scrambler of the day or the tofu scramble with roasted red pepper, scallions, black beans, tortilla strips and salsa. The Marigold Blend coffee is brewed specially for the eatery by nearby Colectivo. For lunch, there's always a soup, salad and sandwich of the day, or pick a sammie with tasty local ingredients nestled in between Madison Sourdough or Batch Bakehouse bread. $ BOM

121 S. Pinckney St., 259-9799 One of the first harbingers of the craft cocktail movement in the city, Merchant was built on the promise of well-mixed libation. With a made-from-scratch drink, your night becomes a custom-made experience. The "barchefs" here use fresh-squeezed juices, locally produced bitters, Kold Draft ice (a denser version of ice that melts more slowly) and quality spirits. Attention is also paid to the menu of apps, cheese and charcuterie boards, small plates, large plates and sandwiches that change frequently to reflect what's in season. The restaurant works with thirty-plus local farms and producers for the freshest meats, fruits, veggies and cheeses—some as close as a mile away—like Underground Meats. $$–$$$$ BOM

101 State St., 257-2383 If you're wondering where the curious name of this quaint little slice of an eatery on the tip of State Street came from, it's a hybrid of the original owner's first name, the wedge shape of a pasty and teddy boys, a nickname for the English miners that brought the pasty to the owner's hometown of Linden, Wisconsin. If you want a meal on the run that can fit in your hand, the pasty is the way to go. Tucked inside this dough pocket you can have your choice of steak or ground beef with potatoes and onions, a pizza version, a "veggie wedgie" or chicken with sauce, veggies and melted cheese. Teddywedgers—recently saved from closure by a sister-brother pair with a longstanding love for the place—is also open early during farmers' market Saturdays. $

111 S. Hamilton St., 395-3295 When Elizabeth and Timothy Dahl opened their Italian restaurant in the historic Jackman building in 2010 to much fanfare and positive reviews, it was a wonderful meld of old and new. Nostrano continues to delight diners thanks to its regional Italian cuisine with a twist. The savory orechiette with spicy fennel sausage, roasted turnips, rapini and preserved Meyer lemon is a delight, and the rest of the menu masterfully mixes in wild game, seafood and pastas. Charcuterie is made in-house and the craft cocktail program, also on the forefront of the city's burgeoning scene, continues to evolve, offering rotating menus based on the seasons. $$$–$$$$

23 N. Pinckney St., 310-4545 This famous eatery has achieved such notoriety in the nine short years it's been open that it's already considered a culinary institution here. This shrine to everything up nort' is always packed to the gills (and doesn't take reservations) but the wait's worth it to sample the exceptional comfort food: prime rib, wood-fired burgers, summer sausage sandwich, superb matchstick fries and cheese curds and a fish fry offered two nights a week—you betcha! The vintage beer memorabilia and Northwoods tchotckhes only add to the appeal—you feel like you're back home at Aunt Maude's sipping, well, an Old Fashioned, we guess. $$ BOM

116 King St., 441-6787 The city's signature cocktail lounge, Opus has a chic vibe that's well suited for unwinding from a long week or celebrating a special occasion. Cozy striped banquettes flank one wall for intimate conversations, and dim mood lighting further set the scene. Fittingly, their menu features only light eats and apps—perfect for sharing and nibbling while catching up with friends. Cheese fondue, salt and pepper shrimp, spring rolls, stuffed olives and a nice selection of cooked sushi rolls, like the spicy tuna roll and California roll, add a nice accent to your night—similar to the well-mixed cocktails here. Opus can proudly say it has the most Champagne cocktails of any establishment in the city, and the cocktail menu is peppered with delightfully named sips like Ryan's Baby and Butter Up Kim. We'll cheers to that. $

14 W. Mifflin St., 204-9000 A step inside Rare Steakhouse is like a step back in time. While the restaurant is brand new, its rich mahogany walls, handsome leather booths and gorgeous chandeliers will have you swearing it's 1965, especially if you have a Manhattan in hand. Service is incredibly attentive and pretty formal, especially for Madison. And the food? Start with the cheese plate and the crab cakes or oysters Rockefeller, and then onto the Caesar salad prepared tableside. For your main course, stick with Rare's specialty: dry-aged steak. Pick from a twenty-four-ounce porterhouse, twenty-two ounce tomahawk chop, sixteen-ounce Kansas City strip and sixteen-ounce bone-in ribeye. Other steak options include filets, top sirloin and ribeye. Sides are à la carte. There are other entrée options, but save the chicken and pork chops for another night. This is a steakhouse, after all. $$$$ 

106 King St., 294-1234 Finally, another worthy sushi slinger downtown! Red Sushi's chic minimalist space is a little haven amid the tavern culture that surrounds it. Belly up to the sushi bar, where you can spy sushi chefs rolling their wares, like the Badger roll, with king crab, shrimp, cucumber, cream cheese, tuna and escolar, or the excellent crab lover roll, a spider roll with spicy king crab. Lunch is always affordable here. Vegans will find a small selection of rolls for them, too. $–$$$ BOM

102 King St., 287-1455 Located in the happening King Street quadrant of the Square, this wedge-shaped slice of corner tavern heaven is marked by a simple illustration of a pink bovine above the entrance. Sandwiches are indulgences, no doubt—the grilled ham and cheese featuring local ham and Wisconsin three-year cheddar on Clasen's bread is just one option—and seven types of fries await you. Wash that down with a glass from a solid selection of craft brews and a jovial atmosphere, and your night is now made. $

116 S. Hamilton St., 256-3570  As you stroll down this stretch of Main Street due west of the Capitol, it seems as though time hasn't touched the establishments on this street. Genna's, the Shamrock and the Tornado are all city standbys that continue to do their thing, and do it well. The Tornado is no exception, with its deliberately retro interior and steaks worthy of their revered reputation. The menu reads as a standard steakhouse's tends to—tenderloin, T-bone, ribeye, venison, lamb, rabbit, duck breast and a small seafood selection—but the taste is surely not run of the mill. Order up the melt-in-your-mouth filet and you'll see what we mean. Tornado also has a late-night menu from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. daily.  $$$$ BOM


The Dining Guide

Shopping & Style

E-Newsletter Registration

This Week's Circulars