Dining and Drink

10 restaurants where chefs like to eat in Madison

A chef's dinner recommendation is one of the best

A chef’s restaurant recommendation is one of the best you can get. As professionals who experiment with new dishes, they pay the same attention to detail when eating at other restaurants. They notice the flavor, texture and presentation. If you’re looking for a highly recommended restaurant in town (or want to rub elbows with some of Madison’s culinary professionals), check out this list of the top 10 eateries mentioned by more than 50 chefs who responded to a 2018 Madison Magazine chef survey asking where they like to eat in town. We followed up by asking why these places earned their stamp of approval.

Pig in a Fur Coat
Longtable Beer Cafe chef Joshua Chavez says he loves the creativity of A Pig in a Fur Coat’s dishes. “[Chef and owner] Daniel Bonanno is always pushing the envelope — he is always trying different things,” Chavez says. Chavez and his wife traveled from Galena, Illinois to eat at A Pig In A Fur Coat. One night he remembers having short rib dish served with a celery puree. “That dinner in particular was one of those great ones for me. It was the use of the celery root that made it stand out,” says Chavez. “The handful of times I’ve been over there I’ve never been let down. I always enjoy going and it holds a special place for my wife and I.” 940 Williamson St., 316-3300 $$

Casetta Kitchen and Counter

Maggie Roovers, head chef at Forequarter, loves the airy atmosphere of Casetta Kitchen and Counter. It also holds a special place in her heart. “My fiancé and I got engaged there, actually,” she says. It was a Thursday morning in September 2018, and her fiancé asked the staff to “pop the question” on the specials board. She said yes. Roovers frequents Casetta not only to relive the memory, but also to enjoy the spicy chickpeas salad, which is made with tomatoes, sherry, anchovies, chickpeas and panko breadcrumbs. Casetta is the go-to spot for many chefs to grab a stacked deli sandwich or a take-home dinner, like baked ziti or chicken Parmesan. A take-home dinner purchase also gets you 10 percent off a bottle of wine — and chefs know that sommelier and Casetta co-owner James Juedes has a great wine selection to choose from. 222 W. Washington Ave., 467-8108 $

Ha Long Bay 
Anibal Brandt, executive chef of Eno Vino Wine Bar & Bistro, says his favorite rice dish is found at Ha Long Bay. “The Nem Khao is crispy rice combined with ground chicken and a delicious pork sausage, which gives the dish a nice acid and meaty flavor along with the crunchiness of peanuts, freshness of cilantro and mint," says Brandt. "All to die for.” Ha Long Bay has an extensive menu featuring more than 100 dishes. After closing for four months in 2018 after an SUV crashed into the facade, this Thai, Vietnamese and Laotian restaurant is back to its former popularity, and guests can expect to wait (but it’s worth it) for a table. 1353 Williamson St., 255-2868 $$

Heritage Tavern 
Lauren Montelbano of Surya Cafe frequents Heritage Tavern. Heritage serves upscale farm-to-table cuisine, including a popular charcuterie and cheese plate with house-cured meats and Wisconsin cheeses. “I know they use really great sourcing for their ingredients — everything is very fresh and local,” says Montelbano. She likes the rustic atmosphere and the “personality” of the restaurant. “[Owner and executive chef] Dan Fox adds his own personal touches to everything,” Montelbano says. Although the menu doesn’t have many vegan options, Montelbano says Fox and sous chef Jon Rosnow are always willing to accommodate her vegan diet. 131 E. Mifflin St., 283-9500 $$$

Morris Ramen

Patrick DePula, chef and owner of Salvatore’s Tomato Pies, says eating at Morris Ramen is like getting a big, spicy, warm hug. “I love it because a bowl of noodles is comfort food,” he says. His favorite dish is the Morris Ramen noodle bowl, made with fresh noodles, chashu pork belly, ajitama (a seasoned soft-boiled egg) and menma, which is a crunchy bamboo shoot. The bones used in the broth for ramen dishes simmer for double-digit hours. “On a day where it is gray and bleak, soup is a great go-to, but then when you add all those different flavors, it is so much better than a bowl of chicken noodle,” says DePula. Although Morris Ramen specializes in noodle dishes, it has some non-ramen menu items, too, like sliced beef rib-eye buns, Japanese potato salad and veggie donburi. 106 King St., 416-5547 $$

Osteria Papavero 
Derek Lee is the owner and “pizzaiolo” of Pizza Brutta, meaning he is the pizza creator. He believes that the authenticity of Osteria Papavero is something special — chef and owner Francesco Mangano creates everything from scratch, from salami to the sauces. It is a family-owned restaurant, as Mangano’s son works right beside him. “Other restaurants in the area have an Italian concept, but [Osteria Papavero] has an Italian authenticity,” Lee says. “Something you’d find in a hill town in Tuscany.” Papavero has a rotating menu, but Lee’s favorite dishes use Bolognese sauce. 128 E. Wilson St., 255-8376 $$$

RED

Jason Kierce, executive chef at Adamah Neighborhood Table, says RED is one of the most innovative restaurants in Madison. “It has a ‘Sex and the City’ feel to it — like you are in a nice downtown neighborhood on the East Coast,” says Kierce. “You’ve even got to check out their bathrooms.” RED quickly outgrew its original location on King Street and in 2016 relocated to a recently renovated West Washington Avenue building. Kierce says he has never had a bad meal at RED. His favorites include the vegetable tempura roll, green bean roll, spicy tuna roll and the bento box. “Everything is on point — their food, their service, their drinks,” Kierce says. “They are a gem for me here in Madison.” 316 W. Washington Ave. #100, 294-1234 $$

Salvatore’s Tomato Pies 
Daniel Bonanno, co-owner and head chef at A Pig in a Fur Coat, says he enjoys the business model of Salvatore’s Tomato Pies. “I like what [owner Patrick DePula] does — he buys local and supports the community,” says Bonanno. DePula, who is often found behind the line at one of his two locations, makes his rounds at the Dane County Farmers’ Market so he can find the freshest produce to use on his pizza pies. The menu changes seasonally, so it is difficult for Bonanno to pick a single thing he likes best. But a popular choice at the East Johnson Street location is the fig and bacon pie, made with wine-poached mission figs, Gorgonzola cheese, balsamic red wine reduction and Jones Dairy Farm bacon. 912 E. Johnson St., 238-6040; 121 E. Main St., Sun Prairie, 318-1761 $$

Sujeo

Mint Mark’s chef and co-owner Sean Pharr says one of the reasons he loves Sujeo is because it offers a style of food that he doesn’t often cook himself. “You never want to eat at the restaurant you cook at because you eat the same thing over and over again,” says Pharr. Korean ingredients aren’t what
he typically cooks with at home or at his restaurant, he says. He also enjoys the late-night menu because after a long night of slinging pans in Mint Mark’s kitchen, he can enjoy a meal at Sujeo. “I’m also just a huge fan of Jamie [Hoang, executive sous chef at Sujeo]. I think she is one of the most talented chefs in the community,” Pharr says. He says he loves all the fried options, like Sujeo’s fried chicken and its togarashi waffle fries served with a side of gochujang ketchup. 10 N. Livingston St., 630-9400 $$

Tornado Room Steak House
On the 2018 Madison Magazine chef survey, more than 13 local chefs and restaurant owners listed Tornado Room Steak House as a top spot for dinner. Kipp Thomas, owner and executive chef of Kipp’s Kitchen catering business, says he likes the nostalgic feel of the steakhouse, which features wood paneling and white linen service. The supper club-style restaurant has been around for more than
two decades. “I love to walk in and see people I recognize from Madison, like city officials
or other restaurant chefs,” says Thomas. The menu ranges from a 20-ounce bone-in tenderloin to pan-fried rabbit with a breadcrumb crust. “I like any big steak they have there; I love the rib-eye on the bone,” Thomas says. Tornado also serves a late-night menu available from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. 116 S. Hamilton St., 256-3570 $$$$


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