By Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host Published Dec 29, 2023 at 11:01 AM Photography: Lori Fredrich

 2023 was yet another year filled to the brim with numerous restaurant openings, countless tasty new dishes and – maybe most of all – a clear demonstration of grit and innovation on the part of our resilient restaurant owners.

As we move into 2024, it seems apropos to take a look back at how far we’ve come; after all, the Milwaukee dining scene, even just 14 years ago (as the city's restaurant boom began in earnest), was a far cry from what it is today. 

We are very lucky. Recent years have been smattered with an embarrassment of riches when it comes to food and dining. So, as we look, let's also appreciate the wealth of options that we have in our local scene and vow to support and preserve it as we move into a new year. Our restaurants are counting on us.


It’s tough to imagine a world without Blue’s Egg. But until 2010, the city had never seen a restaurant that put so much thought into the morning meal. The same is true of Harbor House, which introduced an entirely new sort of Lakeside dining, complete with a larger selection of both East and West coast oysters than the city had ever seen. 

That same year, Chef Michael Engel brought his unique blend of French and Mediterranean fare to Bay View in the form of Pastiche. And Milwaukee saw the beginnings of the pho craze with the opening of numerous Vietnamese restaurants including Pho Viet and Hue in Bay View, a restaurant which has not only evolved, but moved into its very own new building.

The one that got away

Ryan Braun's Waterfront was among the restaurants that opened in 2010, but didn't last. Renamed Ryan Braun's Graffito in 2011 and then Graffito after Braun's suspension, the eatery went dark before the end of 2013. The Eatery on Farwell also opened in 2010, making a splash with its accessible menu of comfort food selections, which included notable vegetarian and vegan options, daily brunch, an amazing happy hour and a menu that paid homage to both the traditional Wisconsin tavern and supper club. Alas, the restaurant closed in 2014, making way for owner Ryan Oschmann's new project, taking over his family's supper club in Muskego.


This year brought the city an interesting combination of restaurants to the scene. The burger scene was ineffably changed by the addition of Oscar’s Pub & Grill, which has continued to woo burger lovers with options like the aptly named "Big O." Lowlands Group also expanded their reach to the Historic Third Ward, giving the city one of its first high profile rooftop patio spaces with Cafe Benelux. And after much anticipation, Dave Swanson blazed trails with the opening of Braise, a restaurant which not only assisted in putting Walker’s Point on the map as a dining destination, but also took farm to table dining to a new level.

This was also the year that Nanakusa, a restaurant that elevated Milwaukee’s sushi scene, closed its doors. But it definitely paved the way for the addition of Screaming Tuna, an innovative spot that’s taken a stand on both delicious sushi and the use of sustainable seafood.

The ones that got away

A few restaurants that opened in 2011 were ahead of their time. The first was Beta by Sabor, a short-lived but notable restaurant-within-a-restaurant that offered folks a look into the not-so-distant dining future with their menu of forward-thinking small plates, craft cocktails and frozen desserts made with their innovative nitro-cream machine. (After the restaurant closed in 2012, Chef Mitch Ciohon would go on to found Taco Moto and later, Snack Boys). Such was also the case with Verduras Tea House & Cafe, a well-appointed Third Ward stop that specialized in loose-leaf teas and a menu of vegetarian soups, salads and sandwiches. Both would be right at home in Milwaukee if they opened today.


2012 was a memorable year that birthed a number of restaurants with impressive staying power. Among them was Odd Duck, a Bay View spot that stretched diners’ palates with its inventive menu of ever-changing globally inspired small plates. The restaurant was among the trailblazers that prepared the city for the slew of more adventurous restaurants that came in its wake. Today, the restaurant is still blazing trails, albeit in its new Walker's Point location.

Among the others that opened the same year is Kanpai, a modern Japanese concept that would satiate the city’s increasing desire for fresh, inventive sushi.

The ones that got away

A restaurant that opened in 2012 to much fanfare, but also left an immense void in its wake when it closed in 2018, was c.1880. It was a restaurant that not only marked the homecoming of Chef Thomas Hauck, but introduced the city to a style of fine dining which was as artfully presented as it was delicious. The same could be said of Rumpus Room, which opened in 2012 with an edgy menu that bucked the more traditional Bartolotta’s model. The restaurant closed during the COVID-19 pandemic and has not reopened.  In 2023, we also saw the closing of  The Noble, a restaurant that opened in 2012 and made a big name for itself despite its notably tiny footprint.


Although 2012 was a tough year to follow in terms of innovative new spots, the city’s dining scene made a big stride with the opening of Bavette La Boucherie, a forward-thinking concept that combined an upscale cafe with a sustainably focused butcher shop. As time passed, it would be a restaurant that would showcase the wonders of phenomenally prepared fine dining fare at mid-level prices. Thanks to its move to a larger space (with an expanded kitchen) in 2022, Bavette has been able to continue its evolution, bringing even more impressive plates to our fine city.

Meanwhile, on the East Side, Chef Justin Carlisle opened Ardent, a unique chef-driven spot that would earn him accolades from both diners and the James Beard Foundation, even as it has evolved in 2023 to meet the ever-changing whims of local diners. 

The year also marked the return of Pizza Man after the original location was destroyed in a tragic 2010 fire. Its new East Side location would not only mark the return of countless favorite dishes but also (unknowingly) pave the way for Ca’Lucchenzo, the restaurant Zak and Sarah Baker would open in 2019. Its relocation to Riverwest in 2023 would also prove its longevity as a longtime favorite on the Milwaukee scene.

Other restaurants that came on the scene in 2013 included Black Sheep in Walker's Point, a restaurant that originally opened as a wine bar with a "haute dog" menu, but which found its identity under new ownership in 2015.

The ones that got away

The year also brought forth two beloved spots that weren’t destined to last. The first was Wolf Peach, a Phoenix of sorts that sprung from the ashes of Roots Restaurant and Cellar and offered unique hilltop dining with a view to diners until its unfortunate closure in 2018. Milwaukee also saw the rise of AP Bar & Kitchen, a memorable small plates spot from Crazy Water’s Peggy Magister which would make a name for itself with both its creative menu and stellar wine list before closing in 2017. But not all the losses were short-lived. Even near 10-year staples like Red Light Ramen, the late-night pop-up ramen shop that helped pave the way for the ramen craze in Milwaukee, shuttered in 2023 due to financial challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.


Looking back, 2014 was a very good year for Milwaukee overall, as the city shooed in a laundry list of over 50 restaurants, many of which consistently earned top spots on my dining lists.

Bay View saw the transformation of Mama DeMarini’s into Goodkind, a restaurant that would set the bar for both craft cocktails and shareable plates in the area; and MOVIDA brought the city a taste of modern Spain with its menu of tapas and paella, eventually adding a Spanish gin and tonic program and getting the city hooked on sangria.

Maxie’s & Blue’s Egg owners Dan Sidner and Chef Joe Muench also broke new ground, opening Story Hill BKC in a former uniform store on Bluemound Road. The restaurant upped the ante for dining in the area, while simultaneously introducing an innovative new concept, a wine & spirits shop right in the restaurant itself. 

Meanwhile, Tochi opened its doors in Shorewood in January of 2014 (right on the heels of the launch of Red Light Ramen), transforming the former Anaba Tea Room into a punk rock ramen shop that would introduce Milwaukee to a feast of both traditional and creative takes on the Japanese noodle soup.   The restaurant was fated to move to West Bend in 2015 and yet another move to Sheboygan in 2022. But its survival is great news, nonetheless, for ramenphiles.

At the same time, Walker’s Point continued to establish itself as a dining destination with the addition of Morel, a restaurant that would showcase Chef Jonathan Manyo’s talents for thoughtful preparation of locally sourced fare. 

The ones that got away

Among restaurants that opened in 2014, but which have since closed or reconcepted are Pattaya Thai (which occupied the building now home to Miss Molly’s Bakery & Cafe) and Locavore, the locally focused restaurant at Potawatomi Hotel & Casino which closed in 2016 to make way for Canal Street Cafe.

In 2023, after nine years of service, Engine Company No. 3 traded in its brunch menu in favor of an identity as an events venue.  Lazy Susan, a restaurant that brought voice to Chef AJ Dixon’s eclectic cooking, also made its departure in 2023. It was among a series of closures that reflected the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on both the finances and mental health of local restaurant owners. The city also bid adieu to longtime favorite, Meat on the Street, a trail-blazing Filipino concept that burst onto the Milwaukee scene in 2014.


This was another great year for Milwaukee dining, with a diverse range of high-profile restaurants making their debut. After a successful run of pop-up dinners, Chef Greg Leon opened Amilinda, a Downtown spot that offers a combination of intimate service and a menu of dishes inspired by the cuisines of Spain and Portugal (and which would earn Leon a James Beard nomination in 2023).

In Riverwest, Company Brewing upped the ante for brewpub fare with an opening menu of innovative bar bites that went well beyond the usual. And Bay View got their first taste of The Vanguard, a bar and eatery that offered an unexpected twist on one of Milwaukee’s most stereotypical foods: the sausage. The East Side also got a treat when Tony Kora and siblings JJ and Tammy Lert debuted Rice N Roll Bistro, a casual restaurant serving up a combination of traditional Thai dishes and beautifully presented unique sushi.

In 2015, no one was quite ready for the imaginative dining experience that accompanied the opening of Merriment Social. Dim sum style service? Burgers served up on housemade Japanese milk buns? All served up in a boisterous, fun environs? But as time wore on and the Merriment Social concept evolved, it's become one of the most fun, inventive restaurants in Walker's Point.

Meanwhile, Bass Bay Brewhouse shook things up in Muskego with a modern version of the classic Wisconsin Supper Club. The resulting restaurant offered a rustic, casual environment and lake views combined with a casual menu showcasing a variety of dishes from burgers and fried chicken to prime rib and one of the area’s best fish fries. 

The ones that got away

When Giovanni’s reopened on Old World Third Street in 2015, it marked the comeback of long-time restaurateur Giovanni Safina and a menu of beloved Italian dishes; but the return was short-lived, with the restaurant closing its doors in 2017. Two other notables, Irie Zulu and Supper, also made their debuts in 2015, both closing after three-year runs.


Dandan spreadX

The restaurant boom continued in 2016, with nearly 40 restaurants opening their doors across the city. Chefs Dan Van Rite (of Hinterland) and Daniel Jacobs (of Wolf Peach & Odd Duck) introduced the city to their take on Chinese-American and Asian-inspired fare at Dandan (and EsterEv, an upscale restaurant-inside-a restaurant) in the Third Ward. Third Coast Provisions reintroduced the city to opulent fine dining with an inspired seafood menu served up in an atmosphere that’s as comfortable as it is beautiful.

Meanwhile, Bartolotta’s alum Chef Evan Greenhalgh put his internationally inspired cooking chops to work at Easy Tyger, the small plates spot focuses on an eclectic mix of Asian inspired dishes. While Greenhalgh eventually left the helm, others followed in his footsteps including current chef, Heather Habram. The owners of MOVIDA also branched out with Hotel Madrid, a dining destination that has continued to offer Milwaukee a modern view of Spanish cuisine even as it evolved to become the new home for MOVIDA (which moved to Hotel Madrid during the pandemic). 

The city also welcomed several unique new concepts, including C-Viche, which introduced Bay View to its menu of Ibero-American fare (the restaurant would establish a second location in Shorewood before shuttering Bay View in 2023) and Urban Beets, which would assist in serving the city's increased demand for plant-based cuisine (they would eventually close their Downtown location in favor of a new one in Wauwatosa).

Meanwhile, the pizza scene grew with the additions of Wy’East Pizza on West Vliet Street and Fixture Pizza Pub in Walker’s Point.

The ones that got away

Of course, 2016 also brought forth a few memorable eateries that would not stand. After just six years in business, Milwaukee BBQ pioneer Chef Aaron Patin decided to close Iron Grate BBQ Co. in 2022 after assisting in paving the way for a BBQ scene such as Milwaukee had never seen.

Other venues were heart-breakingly short-lived. Such was the case for Hello Falafel in Bay View, a restaurant that offered us two years of fresh, inventive Middle Eastern flavors before bidding farewell in 2018. We also saw the final stretch of Karl Ratsch, which reopened in 2016, but closed the following spring, leaving nearly 100 years of memories in its wake. It was a closing that taught us all numerous valuable lessons.


Strange Town squash dishX

Diners’ tastes change, and 2017 showcased openings that catered to a new era of dining needs. The Original brought upscale Southern-inspired fare to the East Side, along with an emphasis on stellar service. Strange Town brought a chill retro vibe, complete with vinyl records and globally inspired plant-based fare.

That same year,  The Diplomat showcased what would be soon recognized as James Beard-worthy comforts in its menu of well-executed shareable plates; and we saw the long-awaited opening of Santino’s Little Italy, a restaurant that would mark a new era for the North edge of Bay View.

The city also saw the introduction of numerous counter-service restaurants, further cementing the arrival of the national fast casual dining trend in Milwaukee. Among them was the city's first poke concept: Freshfin Poke, a brand that has since expanded to include multiple locations.

The ones that got away

Spots like Yokohama, the modern ramen and karaoke spot; The Tandem, which redefined what a restaurant could be; and the beautifully appointed Kindred in Bay View also opened this same year. All three have since departed, paving the way for new restaurants in their wake.

Even Birch + Butcher, which introduced Milwaukee to its first taste of spectacular hearth-fired cooking, would be lost to history during the COVID-19 pandemic (though it would reopen as a new concept, Birch, in 2021).

Fast casual spots that flooded the streets of Walker's Point also began to fall. Laughing Taco took their leave in 2021, while beloved spots like Boo Boo’s Sandwich Shop and Bowls also hung up their hats in 2022.  


No lie. 2018 was a spectacular year for Milwaukee. Among the 60+ restaurants that opened in 2018, there were countless notables.

Breakfast was made new (and fun) again at Uncle Wolfie’s Breakfast Tavern, a restaurant that not only established itself as a brunch destination but revived a former tied house in the process.  Meanwhile, Bartolotta alum Chef Andrew Wilson opened his first restaurant, Brandywine in Cedarburg, setting a new bar for eateries in the area.

Before the year was over, Don’s Diner also slid into the fray with its retro diner atmosphere and upscale-casual fare... rebranding as a dual concept, Don's Grocery & Liquor and Don's TV Repair (speakeasy) during the 2020 pandemic.

In West Allis, the arrival of Sze Chuan set the bar exceedingly high for traditional Chinese fare in Milwaukee, gaining a slow-but-steady following of loyal fans. Momo Mee also made a splash in Walker’s Point, introducing Milwaukee to a pan-Asian menu featuring housemade noodles and dumplings, including the coveted xiao long bao.

Crossroads Collective made its debut as the East Side’s first food hall, giving birth to enduring concepts like Egg & Flour (an anchor tenant) and Heaven’s Table BBQ (which would leave the food hall and establish a brick-and-mortar at the end of 2021). Meanwhile, the Sherman Phoenix opened in the Sherman Park Neighborhood transforming a space once marred by violence into a community gathering place and entrepreneurial hub showcasing retail and food-based businesses.

Of course, the year also brought about some drama. Among the most confusing scenarios of the year was the closing of the Original Crawdaddy’s, which Chef Johnathan Klug had reopened in a new location on Greenfield Avenue. Things got confusing when, late in 2018, Troy Meyer opened Crawdaddy’s on Greenfield, a different (but similar) concept with a very similar name.

The ones that got away

Fauntleroy, a memorable French concept introduced by Chefs Daniel Jacobs and Dan Van Rite in 2018, and Celesta, a plant-based comfort food haven, were both among a slew of spots to bid adieu during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021. Among them was View MKE, which opened in the June of 2018, closed in November of 2020 and never reopened. 

Maybe most frustrating was the loss of Snack Boys, a venue that made its mark with wildly fun throw-back decor and a thoughtfully constructed menu of well-executed snacks. Sadly, after relocating to larger digs on the East Side in late 2019 – and without much time to gain footing – the venue quietly suspended operations in 2021 after pandemic woes made keeping the concept alive an impossible task. 

We also saw the demise of one of the city's most impressive beer halls. Glass + Griddle (which opened in 2018 and rebranded as Bottle House 42 in 2021) bode farewell in 2022 along with Milwaukee Brewing Company.

Long-time North Side restaurant, Silver Spring House also made a triumphant comeback in 2018; unfortunately, the restaurant doors closed again this fall after just 18 months in business. 


Ca'Lucchenzo pastaX

Expansion of the scene slowed only slightly in 2019, with right around 50 restaurants opening their doors over the span of the year. Among them were stars like Ca’Lucchenzo, which presented diners with both excellently prepared regional Italian fare and housemade pasta and a level of service that reminded the city of the joy dining out could bring. The Iron Horse Hotel also introduced a new favorite in Ash, a cozy casual spot offering more delicious hearth-fired fare.

Meanwhile, longtime Buckley’s Chef Thi Cao opened Wild Roots, a forward-thinking locally-focused restaurant in West Allis. Chef Jodi Janisse-Kanzenbach also took a leap, closing her longtime restaurant Cafe Soeurette in West Bend to open Prec1nct Tap + Table, an inspired casual restaurant in Germantown. Former Tomken's chef, Brian Felten, also filled a void on Vliet Street with his new upscale-casual tavern concept, Neighborhood Draft

Breakfast returned to Silver City with the opening of Orenda Cafe, a cheerful cafe offering healthful, comforting takes on breakfast and lunch dishes. The year also saw the groundbreaking opening of Zocalo Food Park, a community hub and the city’s first food truck park, featuring vendors including Mazorca Taco, Ruby’s Bagels and Scratch Ice Cream.

The city and surrounding area was also flooded with numerous high-profile openings from national brands including Fairgrounds Coffee + Tea, the Fox Point location for Lou Malnati's Pizzeria (which now has multiple locations), and both Wahlburgers and The Pivot Room (WhirlyBall’s signature restaurant) in Brookfield. 

The ones that got away

Burgerim brought its unique burgers Downtown in February of 2019; but it disappeared just as quickly, leaving an empty storefront on Old World Third in its wake. We also saw the return of the original Crawdaddy’s restaurant, which reopened under the name The Original Crawdaddy’s Roadhouse in July of 2019, but closed following Chef Jonathan Klug's untimely death in February of 2020. Both Press. Waffles and Triciclo Peru – both mobile food operations that opened brick and mortar restaurants in 2019 – also observed their final days in 2023. Even big-name national brands like Punch Bowl Social, which opened with much fanfare in 2019, would leave the scene, never quite regaining steam after the pandemic.


Sorella pork chopX

2020 was quite the year. It was among the most difficult in memory for restaurants nationwide, nearly all of which struggled to keep their heads above water throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

And yet, we were lucky. Despite closings and challenges, we welcomed over 40 new restaurants. Among the highlights was the opening of Sorella in Bay View, a true neighborhood eater where Chef Kyle Toner introduced his Jersey-inspired takes on Italian American cuisine; the much-anticipated brick and mortar for Egg & Flour Pasta Bar (which opened, closed and reopened all in the course of one year); and the opening of La Dama, a modern regional Mexican re-concept which marked the end of an era for Crazy Water’s Peggy Magister and a new one for long-time chef Emanuel Corona. 

Restaurants like Aperitivo introduced new takes on small plates; while the city’s bagel scene got a lift thanks to the bagels and noshes at Allie Boy’s Bagelry & Luncheonette.

Meanwhile, Taqwa’s Restaurant and Bakery brought a welcome new slate of Middle Eastern fare to the near South Side. Lao fare was also (happily) brought to the fore and celebrated through venues like Sweet Basil in Franklin and Sticky Rice (first in Riverwest, now on the East Side), which have worked to spread the word about a cuisine that’s often overshadowed by neighboring cuisines from China and Thailand.

As many in our city rallied for justice and equality, we also welcomed a fair number of new  Black-owned restaurants from Big Daddy’s BBQ, Grandma’s Hands, Immy’s African Cuisine and new Jamaican eateries including Mobay Cafe and Jamaican Season Island.

Unsurprisingly, in a year when we all needed it, comfort food was king. Pizza options multiplied across the city bringing us mobile gems (and pop-ups) like Brute PizzaFlour Girl & Flameand Flourchild (all three of which would turn brick and mortar in 2021 or 2022), along with a revitalization of a long-time brick-and-mortar restaurant and new pizza favorite, The Red Mill Inn. 

We also saw an uptick in quality burgers with spots like Dairyland upping the ante with their consistent, nostalgic offerings in both Oak Creek and at Zocalo Food Park (with a permanent move to 3rd Street Market Hall in 2022).

The ones that got away

Sadly, a number of the new restaurants that opened in 2020 have since closed, nearly all casualties of the pandemic in one way, shape or form.

Among the openings that weren't meant to last include Betty’s Burgers & Custard on Brady, which announced its closing in 2021 and Pizza de Brazil, a unique South American pizza buffet concept that didn't quite make it a full year. Maybe most tragic was the loss of Thum, a restaurant that brought modern Lao fare to the fore for many (and did it well), before bidding farewell in 2021 after a very difficult year. Even Tavolino, which seemed to have made it over the pandemic hump, was destined to close in 2023.


Crudo from BirchX

If 2020 was an earthquake, 2021 was the aftershock. Even as restaurants reopened, hardships like escalating food costs, supply chain issues and staffing shortages littered every step of the way.

But, again, Milwaukee's dining scene kept on growing. For every loss there seemed to be a gain with 65 restaurants exploding onto the scene. Birch + Butcher was reborn as Birch, a must-try restaurant where vegetables and meats are both coaxed to their full flavor with the help of open fire. A former leather factory on the edge of Downtown was utterly transformed into Central Standard Crafthouse & Kitchen, a micro-distillery, restaurant and event space all in one. And Buttermint Finer Dining & Cocktails brought the charm of a 1960s aesthetic along with the hope of getting folks to return to the practice of dining out.

Comfort food, however, ruled the scene. Saint Bibiana made very good waves with its burger on Brady Street while the dog-friendly Riley's Sandwich Co. brought fantastic roast beef and chicken sandwiches to Shorewood and Drunken Cobra brought poutine back to North Avenue. Meanwhile, nostalgia ruled as folks went nuts about the return of Big Boy to Wisconsin.

We also saw several established restaurant owners conjure up new things. Longtime pitmaster Darnell Ashley of Ashley's Bar-B-Que opened Q, a full-service southern and soul food restaurant in the Bronzeville neighborhood.  Owners of The National Cafe helped to fill the void left behind by Celesta when they opened a new plant-based cafe, The Lafayette Place. Meanwhile, the owners of the cheel branched out to embrace Mexican fare with Daily Taco + Cantina in Thiensville, a restaurant specializing in Guadalajaran fare.

And even as the city lost longtime favorites, new things arose. Fuel, the nostalgic grunge-era Riverwest coffee shop, became home to an inspiring new concept, The Daily Bird, a venue centered as much around community and positivity as coffee and delicious food. Meanwhile, 2021 brought the news that Fuel's once-sister-cafe Comet would reopen in 2022 under the ownership of Valeri Lucks, an established restaurateur who helped to shape Comet's trajectory years ago. And two popular restaurants – Bavette and Odd Duck – announced their plans to move into larger spaces in 2022.

The ones that got away

As usual, not all the riches would remain. Nice Times, a new plant-based eatery that made its inaugural debut in the former Snack Boys space during last week of the year wouldn't make it through 2022. And the fun, comfort food haven, Fool's Errand – which strove to fill the void left behind by Fauntleroy – gave up its ghost in the summer of 2022. The Historic Brown Bottle Pub would meet a similar fate, leaving an historical space empty once again.


Lebnani house viewX

As promised, 2022 brought numerous reopenings and moves, including Comet, Bavette and Odd Duck, all of which are – as it seems – better than ever.

But the year also brought forth a slew of nearly 50 new openings. For the second time since 2018, the city exploded with new food halls, from the high profile long-awaited 3rd Street Market Hall which officially opened in January to Milwaukee's first virtual food hall Paper Table. Meanwhile, North Avenue Market, a community-driven, mission-focused hall also made its debut in late summer, a first for the city's West Side.

The city also saw a rise in upscale globally-focused eateries with openings like Saffron, a gorgeously modern Indian restaurant in the Third Ward and Lebnani House, a beautiful South Side spot serving up a wide range of modern Levantine fare from countries including Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. 

Anticipation was great for openings like The Bridgewater Modern Grill, a riverfront restaurant that promised wood-fired cuisine for the Harbor District/Bay View; Tauro Cocina, a Latin and Italian fusion restaurant that revived the building which had held Trocadero for many years; Pilot Project Brewing brought forth a beer hall featuring Italian fare from Chicago's Gemma Foods; and Chef Adam Siegel's Mediterranean restaurant, Lupi & Iris, arrived in style as one of the most upscale openings of the decade.

Other landmark debuts included Turning Tables Tavern & Eatery, the city's first-ever restaurant and teaching kitchen founded explicitly to train and support black and brown-owned businesses and 1700 Pull Up, which opened in Lindsay Heights, marking another step forward for the formerly disinvested neighborhood located just steps away from Downtown.

The ones that got away

Numerous concepts that made their debut in 2022 disappeared just as quickly. That includes congenial spots like C.C.'s Elbow Room, the creative Finnish-themed Sisu Cafe and HotWax, which made an indelible mark on the burger scene before bidding adieu.


Veal at Safina
Veal parmesan at Safina

2023 was a year of transition for the scene, bringing over 60 new concepts to the scene and closures (particularly of longtime restaurants) highlighting the ongoing burdens of rising costs, staff shortages and demanding diners whose expectations (and dining habits) have been remolded by carry-out, delivery and tight economic times.

International cuisine ruled the scene as Safina brought back the much-beloved Sicilian recipes of the Safina family in a modern new concept and Chicago-based Avli brought regional Greek fare to an iconic Brewers Hill restaurant.

Latin-American cuisine got a strong boost with spots like La Cocina del Sur Empanada Bar, a mobile operation which brought a diverse menu of cuisine to Riverwest, and Travieso, a spin-off of Trouble Makers Cocina that offered long-time Tess chef Martin Magaña a creative space to reimagine Latin-fusion dishes.

Long-awaited openings included Sushi Yuki, an eatery originally announced in 2016, and Pupuseria Los Angeles which found a home at the North Avenue Market after being unable to open in Silver City. The Metro Milwaukee area also celebrated the return of the cheel – an eatery that made Thiensville a destination with its inspired Nepalese fare in 2014,  suffered a tragic fire in November of 2021, and then returned to the scene in November of 2023.

Smash burgers became even more prevalent with the establishment of spots like Archie’s Flat Top in West Allis and LP (Local Pub), which brought forth a new menu of southern-inspired pub fare Downtown while reviving a bit of HotWax's charm with its namesake burger.

Meanwhile, we saw the boba tea and mochi doughnut crazes take full effect, birthing casual shops like TsaoCaa and Mochinut (among others).

A keen reminder

As I compiled this list, and contemplated the growth we've seen over more than a decade (in turn appreciating the many great restaurants that have opened and remained), it underscored the deep importance of supporting these restaurants as we head into the New Year. It sounds morose, but it's more true now than ever. Those we do not support may not make it another year.

For a full list of openings from the past year, check out our guide to the newest Milwaukee restaurants.  And please make it a point to support our local restaurants in 2024. They are ALL depending on us.

Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host

Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club. 

When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.