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We’ve all had one of those days, when the thought of making dinner seems as conceivable as performing transplant surgery while simultaneously watching “Game of Thrones.” For the cooking-challenged among us, that day is every day. Fortunately, Madison’s restaurant nation has you covered with takeout options that run the gamut from simple comfort to “oh-wow” extravagance. Some of these places also offer sit-down alternatives, but others don’t. What they all have in common is incredibly delicious and memorable fare—to go.
Don’t go thinking this is a just a college-kid stop with a stunt menu hook: The Mexican fare at Burrito Drive is seriously expansive and authentically prepared. They’ve also got Americanized options, like a burrito stuffed with tater tots, Velveeta and Spam. And who wouldn’t want to pair a chicken enchilada with wontons stuffed with chorizo and blue cheese? Did we mention they serve until 3 a.m.? 310 Brearly St., 260-8586 $
Chinese food is one of the twin tent poles of takeout (pizza being the other) and damned if Chang Jiang doesn’t have every possible ring of the flavor circus covered, from traditional choices like sweet and sour all the way to chow mein and five kinds of moo shu. A user-friendly online menu makes your order easy to prepare in advance—which is clutch, because you’ll have a lot of food boxes to balance on the way home. 3195 Muir Field Road, 848-8989; 5710 Raymond Road, 274-2328; 646 S. Gammon Road, 278-1181; 2935 S. Fish Hatchery Road, Fitchburg, 288-1888; 1017 N. Edge Trail, Verona, 848-8898 $
Curry in the Box
A quick and efficient turnaround is one of the big draws at Curry in the Box. Place your order and you’ll be only minutes away from a container of curry that’ll stop you in your tracks. The pineapple curry always hits the spot between sweet and spicy, but then again, so does the sweet potato curry. All the curry options can be scaled up or down in heat depending on the tolerance of your taste buds. If you’re smart, you’ll top your order with a smooth and creamy mango lassi. If you go with the three-star spice level, you’re going to need this cool dessert as much as you enjoy it. 3519 University Ave., 238-1900; 3050 Cahill Main, Fitchburg, 273-9100 $
Fraboni’s Italian Specialties and Delicatessen
Watch that you don’t waste your entire dinner hour transfixed by the delicious array of sandwich meat options at this Greenbush neighborhood institution (there’s one on Owen Road, too). We can attest that the Genoa salami is particularly hypnotic. If decision-making paralysis threatens to set in, reach for the bedrock lifesaver: the Italian sub, packed with a mountain of meat that includes said salami and capicola ham, doused in tangy vinaigrette. The signature white butcher paper you’ll carry it out in just screams takeout heaven. 822 Regent St., 256-0546; 108 Owen Road, Monona, 222-6632 $
Ha Long Bay
You can really sum it up in three simple words: pho to go. The ability to carry out a steaming bowl of the Vietnamese definition of comfort food is just about priceless, especially when you need a lunch pick-me-up or a break during that overtime shift. The rest of the menu is full of dishes with the complex, tasty flavors of Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. Luckily, ordering and picking up takeout couldn’t be easier. 1353 Williamson St., 255-2868 $ *This restaurant is temporarily closed to a car crashing into it's building May 4.
There are tons of fast-food options littering the straits of East Washington Avenue, but why, oh why, would you ever stop at one when you could opt for the authentic taste of Venezuelan cuisine instead? If it’s a sandwich you’re craving, we’re particularly partial to the Patacon Pisao, a ’wich that traps your choice of meat or veggies between a pair of fried plantains and seemingly every condiment this side of the border. Rather take home a platter? Better use two hands—the Pabellón, a black bean, cheese and beef number that doubles as Venezuela’s national dish will more than fill yours. 3502 E. Washington Ave., 721-9100 $$
New Orleans Take-Out
If the home of eat mo’ bettah hawked only beignets, it’d perfectly encapsulate the experience of eatin’ right and tight on the Bayou. But that’s OK: We’re more than satisfied by the ability to sink our teeth into a breaded oyster po’ boy and scorch our tongues on a takeout serving of Deb’s butter-soaked barbecue shrimp—topped with some dirty rice, naturally. Just remember to pick up a stack of napkins on the way out the door. 1517 Monroe Ave., 280-8000 $ BOM
On Friday nights, the counter lines can stretch back to the live lobster tank, but it’s totally worth the wait to score a grease-soaked bag filled with succulent and tender fried cod and catfish, or maybe a decadent order of fried sea scallops, topped off with a cup of creamy lobster bisque. Arriving early beats not just the lines, but major disappointment—sauntering in near closing time may mean missing out on some of the day’s best catches. 712 S. Whitney Way, 274-5255 $
It’s a good thing the kitchen fire that sidetracked this tiny taqueria a few years ago didn’t knock it out for good—that might have cost us one of the best Mexican takeout options in the city. The platter varieties are enough to sate most appetites, but Guadalajara’s tacos, buoyed by a hearty helping of cilantro and onions, are tailor-made to pack and go. Take a chance on the beef tongue or pork stomach tacos if you’re feeling especially adventurous. 1033 S. Park St., 250-1824 $
The hefty cornish pasties at Teddywedgers endure as a downtown takeout staple, even as they continue to grow in popularity. Teddywedgers recently landed a mention in a USA Today travel article about foods that are unique to Madison, Wisconsin. Doesn’t matter if you wrap your paws around the traditional steak and potatoes version, the marinara- and cheese-soaked Big Cheesy or the sweet potato veggie version—you’ve just brought home at least two meals' worth of awesome. 101 State St., 230-5360 $
This takeout-only Thai joint boasts plenty of mouthwatering entrees, from the perspectives of both taste and spiciness. It’s home to some of the most righteous crab rangoon in Madison (spoiler: it’s the cilantro). Pairing a little sweet with the spice is a big part of Thai Basil’s charm. Pineapple fried rice is on the menu, which is why the mango curry with shrimp is a can’t-miss pick. If your access to
a large glass of water is guaranteed, grab your chopsticks and jump into the Evil Jungle Noodle, a dish that pairs a spicy red curry with—what else?—basil leaves. 6714 Raymond Road, 273-8890 $$
Wings Over Madison
Wing joints have created their own takeout cottage industry of late, trying to wing their way into a slice of Buffalo Wild Wings’ massive sports-bar pie. Wings Over Madison couldn’t be more bare-bones about its approach, but the fact that your wings are cooked to order makes up for it, as does the deep array of possible sauce choices (we’re fond of the Jamaican Jerk). Bummer that they’re open for lunch only on Fridays, but being able to score a half pound of fresh, meaty wings at midnight on a Tuesday is underrated. 2739 University Ave., 467-3300 $ BOM
Eat up on Aisle 2
Grocery stores smartly deduced that offering folks who stop in on the way home for the proverbial gallon of milk a delicious option for takeout dinner would be a gold mine. These days, however, the available takeout options have become almost dizzying, even rivaling those of some specialty restaurants. Start with the locals at Metcalfe’s Market and if you’re smart, start on Wednesdays, when the sushi chefs offer a surprising array of rolls simple and complex for a mere five bucks. On Thursdays, Metcalfe’s offers $5.99 take-and-bake pizzas and deals on Chinese fare.
Meanwhile, over at HyVee, Chinese takeout is always a rock-solid option, with as many as six to eight main course options. The orange chicken is particularly piquant—complemented with appetizers that include everything from pot stickers to satay.
Eastsiders have it even better: At the urbane and spacious Metro Market, they’ll even cook your porterhouse or salmon filet to order on-site.
And new to town is Festival Foods on East Washington Avenue, offering $5 sushi Wednesdays, a full salad bar and a hot bar that has a different entrée theme every day: burgers and brats, taco bar, chicken and fish fry to name a few.
Pizza takes the cake for quick takeout
As we noted earlier, pizza is virtually synonymous with the concept of takeout, but as we’ll note here, not all takeout options are created equal. The wood-fired goodness at the recently opened Lucille has already rocketed that pizza purveyor to the top of our downtown lunch takeout faves on the strength of a wide-ranging build-your-own ingredient list (Hook’s gorgonzola and Nueske’s bacon? Yes, please). And don’t get us started on the warm pizza cookie. Just be sure to get it home fast before it melts.
At the other end of the spectrum, we’ve always been fans of Buck’s Pizza, where simple ingredients add up to a comforting and dependable taste.
We’d be sadly remiss if we didn’t include Ian’s Pizza, where a Brobdingnagian slice of mac and cheese ’za makes for the lunch of a champion.
For those near Johnson Street, Salvatore's Tomato Pies is a perfect pick-up spot (that is, if you aren't too tempted to hang out on the patio for a while and order one of chef Patrick DePula's daily specials) for one of the most gourmet pies you'll ever take home.
Further from downtown, Rossi’s Pizza in Monona gives you a good reason to come a few minutes early for your takeout order—vintage arcade games. If that doesn't bring out the kid in you, pick up a pint of Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream on your way out to satisfy your sweet tooth.
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