11 under the radar restaurants in Madison

Get out of your food rut and try something new.
multiple dishes at Hong Kong Cafe
Hong Kong Cafe

When the eternal question “where should we eat today?” rings once again in your head, you might resort to stopping at one of the same five places you frequent all the time. We’ve all been there, wanting to try something completely different but unsure of where to go next. Get out of your food rut and try one of these restaurants that might be flying under your radar. Who knows, maybe you’ll wind up with a new favorite spot to add to your dining rotation.

Burakaplate of food with a drink at Buraka
In this seemingly endless winter, stop by Buraka, which specializes in Ethiopian cuisine, to warm up with a savory stew. Soothe any cold with Kenyan coconut curry chicken and yams. Or if you like your meals more vegetable-focused, test out one of the restaurant’s popular meatless dishes, misir wot, a lentil and split pea stew in a spicy tomato sauce. Whatever you order, you can’t leave without trying Buraka’s most popular entree, dorowot, a dish of carrots and chicken coated in a layer of spices and sauce. Buraka’s specialty tropical drinks like the Buraka Breeze, Mango Martini and Pink Flamingo will transport you to a happier (and warmer) place. 1210 Williamson St., 286-1448

Hong Kong Cafe
In this era of fusion restaurants and crazy flavor combinations, sometimes we grow nostalgic for traditional comfort food. Hong Kong Cafe has just that. As the only Chinese restaurant in Madison that has been run for nearly 29 years by its original owners, this spot has some of the tried-and-true Westernized Chinese dishes we know and love like sweet-and-sour chicken and egg drop soup. “My whole family has worked at brand-name Chinese restaurants in town,” says Terry Leung, who owns Hong Kong Cafe with his family. “When you have all these years of experience it’s easy to choose what will go on the menu. Everything on the menu is good.” The family has zeroed in on recipes they know people will enjoy. Next time you’re near the University of Wisconsin–Madison campus and are craving some pot stickers with a side of friendly service, you know where to go. 2 S. Mills St., 259-1668

Jade Mountain CaféMilk being poured into bubble tea
If you’ve ever wanted to try bubble tea — the Taiwanese tea drink with milk and boba, or tapioca balls — head to Jade Mountain Café. This friendly community spot offers almost every kind of bubble tea imaginable. From mango- to roselle flower-flavored iced teas, the shop features varieties for every sort of tea lover. While the spot is largely known for its tea selection, it also has a food menu. Order a plate of filling pot stickers or some steamed buns with unique flavors like taro, lotus, ginger pork and sesame. Since opening in 2011, Jade Mountain Café has become a popular hangout where people can take a breather from work or school and enjoy a sweet burst of caffeine between shifts. 2611 E. Johnson St., 316-2789

Kingdom Restaurant
What started as a restaurant in a Capitol Petro Mart has turned into a must-stop on Madison’s north side. Kingdom Restaurant on Northport Drive is a mix of American-style food and traditional African cuisine. Diners have the option of catfish, hamburgers and wings or dishes like fufu, a yam dumpling stew, or yassa, a chicken dish slathered in a pepper-based sauce with couscous. If you’re really hoping to expand your culinary horizons, sample the domada, which is chicken, beef or fish combined with a peanut butter-based sauce and rice or couscous. 1865 Northport Drive, 286-1238

Off Broadway Drafthousefish fry from Off Broadway Drafthouse
Classic Wisconsin fare gets a classy upgrade at Off Broadway Drafthouse. Think grilled cheese with Dijon mustard and Jones Farm Ham or grass-fed beef burgers from Riemer Family Farm with aged cheddar, provolone, sautéed red onions and garlic aioli. Off Broadway Drafthouse has revamped Wisconsin starters like cheese curds by dressing them with a basil buttermilk sauce. Stop by on a Friday and experience its famous Friday fish fry. “We do a traditional fish fry here with all the fixings; it’s very popular,” says Joe Klinzing, who co-owns the restaurant with his wife, Rita. In the warmer months, recline on the popular patio and complete your meal with one of the brews on tap. “We have a unique menu all the way around,” Klinzing says. “All soups are made in-house [and the] coleslaw is made in-house with our own recipe.” 5404 Raywood Road, 630-9111

Tapatios Cocina MexicanaPlate of food from Tapatios
Owners Leticia and Daniel Hernandez make you feel at home during a meal at Tapatios. Before Tapatios expanded into a brick-and-mortar restaurant in 2018, it was Cali Fresh Food Cart. Try out the Hernandez family’s recipes like sopes — cornmeal shells made by hand and topped with beans, meat and queso fresco — or “Enchiladas de la Abuela,” chicken-filled tortillas drizzled with a mole sauce, a recipe that has been passed down in the family for three generations. While the food itself shines, it’s the waitstaff’s friendly service that will bring you back again and again. The restaurant also recently remodeled to add a full bar with margaritas and handcrafted cocktails. Now you can grab a margarita de jalapeño y sandia (watermelon) to pair along with a plate of tacos. 2990 Cahill Main, Fitchburg, 467-7400

Additional Places Worth a Stop
Switch up your dining routine with some of these other under-the-radar spots.

Aranda’s Mexican Restaurant
Savory Mexican dishes abound at Aranda’s in DeForest. Aranda’s has plenty of combinations that will satisfy any “hangry“ individual. For an easy-to-eat fajita, get the burrito fajita packed with beef or chicken, onions, bell peppers and tomatoes. 142 Market St., DeForest, 842-0683

David’s Jamaican Cuisine
If you’ve never tried Jamaican food before, head to David’s Jamaican Cuisine on a Friday night to see what it’s all about. Fridays are all-you-can-eat buffet nights at the Monona restaurant, so pile your plate with jerk chicken, red snapper, plantains and barbecue ribs. 5696 Monona Drive, Monona, 222-8109

Ogden’s North Street Diner
Whoever said you can’t eat pie for breakfast hasn’t been to Ogden’s North Street Diner. The diner serves breakfast all day and some of the cutest individually portioned pies. Treat yourself a little. 560 North St., 467-3930

The Post
For some classic, high-quality American fare on the Square, visit The Post inside the Best Western Premium Park Hotel on Capitol Square. Go for a meal (the tuna tacos are great to share or keep to yourself) or a drink and dessert with gorgeous views of the Capitol. 24 S. Carroll St., 327-1101

Sugar River Pizza Co.
Order a specialty pizza at Sugar River Pizza Co. in Verona or New Glarus. With pizzas like the MacDaddy, with Thousand Island dressing, beef, pickles and onions, Sugar River is bound to surprise your pizza-loving palate. 957 Liberty Drive, Verona, 497-1800; 700 Railroad St., New Glarus 527-5000

Dana Munro is a former editorial intern at Madison Magazine.