I second nsxtasy's recommendations, as well as the suggestion to check out Carol Deptolla's top 30 list.
If you're looking for linen tableclothes-style fine dining, you'd be hard-pressed to beat Sanford. I was last there a few months ago, and it hasn't lost a step under the leadership of Justin Aprahamian.
Most of my favorite restaurants in the city have a more casual vibe. For example, Hinterland, Morel, Buckley's, Pastiche and Wolf Peach consistently put out great food in stylish but laid-back digs. I haven't been to Ardent yet, but that's also supposed to be excellent. After 10 pm or so it turns into a ramen joint which I've also heard good things about.
Enjoy your visit!
I checked out 3 of Milwaukee's newest restaurants over the past few weeks. Here's a brief summary of my impressions.
Morel (Walker's Point). This a farm-to-table place with a mix of small and large plates. Warm and welcoming space (albeit a bit noisy) with an open kitchen, lots of stone and wood, and big windows looking on to 2nd street. We split 3 small plates: burrata with grilled flatbread, roasted nectarine, some kind of green, and fennel; pork belly with bacon, mushrooms, corn, and cauliflower, and a daily special, foraged mushroom fricasse resting on a slice of lardo and nestled in creamy polenta. All 3 were excellent and had intense, interesting flavors. Pork belly is everywhere these days, but this prep reminded me how good it can be. We also shared 2 of the large plates, a superb rabbit with wild mushrooms, leeks, farrotto and red mustard, and pork shoulder with a kind of hash of cowboys beans, bacon, kimchi, and more red mustard. Both were delicious, with deep flavors, but the rabbit was exceptional. Finally, we had a couple of desserts that were very good (souffle cake and homemade doughnut, both with homemade ice cream) but didn't reach the heights of the food that came before. Morel also has a short but creative list of cocktails. The Corpse Reviver #2 gets 5 stars; I could drink those all day but probably shouldn't.
Movida (Walker's Point): 1 block south of Morel on 2nd is MKE's newest tapas restaurant. Great space, with high ceilings, lots of wood, and big black and white photos on the walls of Spanish luminaries. One of the people at the table had lived in Spain and has high standards for tapas in the US, and he was impressed with Movida's authenticity. We tried a bunch of things, and all were good, with the highlights being the jamon croquetas and lomo tosta. I'd like to return to try more of the menu. The chef delivered some of the dishes and spent a little time talking with us about the food and its preparation. In addition to a nice wine list, they offer a variety of cocktails.
Goodkind (Bay View). If I lived in this neighborhood I would eat here all the time. It's a small place on a quiet block, but the restaurant is anything but quiet. We were there on a Friday night and it was jumping. The place is pretty dark (we weren't the only ones using our flashlight apps)and quite loud, but it's the loudness produced by a lot of people having a great time. It was festive, is what it was. The menu includes a mix of smaller and larger plates and has a number of options for vegetarians. Everything we ate there was very good, though nothing reached the extraordinary level. Highlights included roasted walleye, an eggplant steak with goat cheese, and the Basque cake. They also have an extensive list of creative cocktails; our group tried several and all were excellent. This is a really fun place to eat and drink and hang out with friends.
I wasn't sure how many more small plates-centered restaurants we needed, but these are all welcome additions to the dining scene.
Deptolla does tend to avoid giving low ratings to restaurants that she reviews; it's rare to see a rating below 2 stars (out of 4). I'm not sure if that's because she only reviews places that are expected to have a basic level of competence, tends to find something that she likes everywhere she goes, or wants to avoid publishing a review that could tank a business.
That said, she also doesn't hand out too many very high ratings, and it's hard to argue with her top 30 list. I've been to half of the places on the list and would recommend all of them. Personally, I'd put Wolf Peach and Crazy Water back on, but can't say which I'd take off without having visited the other 15 places. I'm ok with dropping Maxie's; it's a fun place with a great vibe, but in my experience the food is consistently good but not great.
For me, the list and the comments that have followed reflect very well on the quality of restaurant scene in Milwaukee. It's an exciting time to eat here, and there are new places opening up just about every month that I look forward to trying.
We're heading to Madrid next week to visit my son, who's studying there this semester. This board has been very helpful for identifying restaurants to try, but I have 2 specific questions I'd love some input on.
1. Where would you go for cochinillo asado? My sons and I are pork lovers and really want to try this.
2. My wife is a vegetarian and so we're looking for some vegetarian or vegetarian-friendly places.