36 dining hotspots around the Capitol Square

Take a trip downtown for restaurants to suit any mood
36 dining hotspots around the Capitol Square
The spicy bimbimbap from Graze. Photo by Martha Busse.

By Shayna Mace

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.

$ < $10
$$ $10–$15
$$$ $15–$25
$$$$ $25+
(price indicates cost of a dinner entrée)
BOM Best of Madison 2014 winner

43 North
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. $$$$

Argus Bar & Grill
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. $

Blue Marlin
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. $$$$

Bradbury’s Coffee
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. $–$$

Buck & Badger’s
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. $

Capital Tap Haus
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. $$$–$$$$