I spend a lot of time trying to convince people in Chicago that Madison, Wisconsin is one of the coolest cities in the country. I get a lot of blank stares or condescending smiles. But if you’ve been there, you know.
We’ve been visiting a couple of times a year for the past few years and have fallen in love with Madison. It is the state capitol of Wisconsin and also home of the University of Wisconsin, which makes it very much a college town. It is a progressive city, sometimes referred to as the Berkeley of the Midwest. It is built on an isthmus and surrounded by four (five?) beautiful lakes. Nature and urban life flow together in wonderful ways in Madison. It has a thriving food scene and is one of the friendliest places you’ll ever go. Because it is in Wisconsin, beer and cheese are plentiful. Basically, it is paradise.
I thought it was time I shared my favorite places with you. This is not intended to be a comprehensive guide to Madison, I’m not an expert. This is just a listing of the places we like to visit when we are there. I hope it might be useful when you’re planning your trip. I’ll try to keep it updated as we try new things, and I am sure people will have their own suggestions in the comments. I really hope it inspires some of you (especially my fellow Midwesterners) to plan a visit.
FOOD + DRINK:
Since Forequarter opened, we’ve never been in town without eating here. I consider it among my favorite restaurants in the world. I know that sounds like a bold claim, but it is true. Restaurants are complex sites that need to bring together good energy, good food, and good people. If it happens right, magic is produced. Forequarter is the ultimate neighborhood restaurant, but they make out-of-towners feel like regulars. The food highlights the best of Wisconsin and the Midwest and is outrageously good. Last year there was a dish of coffee-roasted beets with buttermilk ice cream that blew our minds. I’m always learning about a new technique or ingredient when I eat here. I’m also a big fan of their bar. A recent menu featured a cocktail called Great Plains which brought together a burning corn husk, squash juice, and mezcal into something truly exceptional. Forequarter is mandatory. Forequarter is magic.
Underground Butcher and Forequarter are both products of Underground Food Collective (UFC), a collaborative group that promotes sustainable Midwest food and community. As a butcher shop, Underground Butcher is a dream. The butchers are all friendly and charming (and cute) and enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the animals they sell. The shop also sells UFC’s own outstanding line of charcuterie, under the label of Underground Meats. But the shop is so much more than meat. They also sell a line of housemade preserves and pickles, bakery (including some really delicious cookies and crackers), as well as dairy, alcohol and other pantry items from trusted suppliers. It is the perfect food shop. We stop here on the way home and load up a cooler with delicious food.
Layla’s is unlike any other restaurant. It is a tiny space, tucked away in the basement of a youth hostel. There is one employee, Leila Borokhim, who takes your order, cooks your food, clears your table, and jokes around with you in between. People looking for a quick lunch should maybe go someplace else. People who lack a sense of humor, and patience, should go someplace else. But the food, oh, the food. This is truly some of the most delicious Persian food I have ever eaten. And the baklava, one of the few sweets I don’t usually care about, is revelatory. I’m obsessed.
One of my favorite pizzas anywhere, ever. Seriously. The original is in an unassuming strip mall in Sun Prairie, about a 20 minute drive from Madison (and worth every mile), though they now also have a location down the street from Forequarter on Johnson. East coast style pizza, but with sauce on top. I recommend getting one with calabrian chile peppers. Their standard garden salad is like a farmers market come to life: edible flowers, sugar snap peas, multiple varieties of radishes, beets, carrots, onions, cherry tomatoes. It’s insane. I highly recommend ordering enough pizza so you can take some home. You’ll be so sad otherwise.
Madison Sourdough Co/Patisserie
You can’t be a good city without good bread. Madison Sourdough provides it for Madison, along with delicious baked goods and lunches. A few months ago they opened a french patisserie next door and it is perfect. Classic French pastries that are extremely well executed. Their sable Breton is especially memorable.
Old school Madison steakhouse that is COOL. It’s expensive for dinner, and there are better options, so go after 10pm for their late-night menu and drinks. Sit in a curved booth and order some cheese curds and a couple of beers and you’re ready for a fun night.
Craft Cocktails on Willy Street. Solid cocktails in slick new space (inside an old house). They have a few snacks on the menu, but really you’re coming here for a nice cocktail before or after dinner.
Impressive pan-Asian food from one of Madison’s most famous chefs, Tory Miller (see L’Etoile/Graze). What the newly constructed space lacks in character, is more than made up for with the food.
Nothing fancy, but a really solid neighborhood spot in a former dive bar. The space has been beautifully renovated and the food is good.
I’ll be honest, I don’t love the food or drinks here, but I love the atmosphere so much that I am including it. It is cozy, and the perfect place to drink a beer on a snowy night. Get a beer and the Middle-eastern plate.
Locally sourced Italian food. Great charcuterie program. The Nduja pasta is wonderful.
During the summer, it can feel like the entire population of Madison is here drinking beer and listening to music. It is the place to hang out in Madison during warm weather. I could (and have) spent hours here enjoying the glory of a Midwestern summer.
Coffee shop that sells crepes right off of the square. Really lovely place to start the day or get a snack.
Great coop, though its recent remodel has left if feeling a little less like the hippie den it once was. I love visiting grocery stores on vacation and this location is a major part of the Willy (Williamson) Street community.
Fantastic cheese shop with a stupid name. Spend some time here talking with the cheesemongers (many of whom are studying cheese-making at the university) and sampling Wisconsin’s finest cheeses. I love anything Willi Lerner (Bleu Mont Farm) produces, and his bandaged cheddar is an all-time favorite. Wisconsin cheeses are the best. Truly.
Madison’s favorite donuts. They’re good, like donuts are.
L’Etoile is the OG fancy Madison foodie destination. It’s great, and chef Tory Miller is a genius with local produce. My only real complaint is that it feels a little stuffy and it is expensive. Still, worth doing at least once. Graze is it’s casual cousin next door, and has my favorite cheese curds in town.
I’m surprised by just how good this ice cream is, it has a real pure dairy flavor (which I guess shouldn’t be a surprise in Wisconsin?). I am a fan of the blueberry cheesecake, which has pieces of cheesecake folded into the ice cream. Don’t blame me when you have a heart attack.
Great coffee and quintessential coffee shop vibes.
The best farmers market in the country, and I will argue with you if you tell me otherwise. The variety and quantity of things available is spectacular. But most importantly, it is affordable. Every time I shop here I am reminded of how silliness and inaccessibility of Green City Market in Chicago. The market surrounds the capitol building and as you will quickly discover, everyone walks counterclockwise around the square. I recommend making two full loops, one to scout out your options, and the other to make purchases. Look out for hickory nuts, a rare treat. No visit to the market is complete without a stop at Stella’s Bakery for their famous hot and spicy cheese bread.
Burnie’s Rock Shop– Quirky rock shop, great fun.
Context Clothing– Men’s clothing store that carries labels you expect to find in bigger cities and will be impressed to find in Madison. A bunch of friendly guys work here. Prices are high, but the quality is good.
The Kitchen Gallery– Fantastic kitchen store. They have everything as well as a good selection of cookbooks.
A Room of One’s Own– Feminist/progressive book store. Pretty good cookbook selection.
THINGS TO DO:
This museum could be in a museum and I love it for that. Bryan says it combines his love of natural history and my love of pretty sparkly things. True.
Nice place for a walk on the university campus. Great views of the capitol.
Impressive gardens, and a nice place to spend an afternoon. You could bring a picnic from Underground Butcher and sit at the lakefront.
Decent collection, and some good special exhibitions. Great views of the lake from the second floor galleries.
Madison Museum of Contemporary Art
Small contemporary art space that hosts traveling shows and exhibits by local artists.
A great place for a hike.
Getting there: Madison is about a 2.5 hour drive (sometimes less) northwest of Chicago.
Where to stay: I’m not sure it matters. We’ve stayed at many different hotels and they were all fine. We splurged on a recent trip and stayed at the newly renovated Edgewater Hotel, and it was a disappointment. It is sort of fake-fancy and the design felt soulless/corporate, which you can find elsewhere for half the price. I’d rather save the money to spend on cheese and beer. The Hampton Inn is a solid, reasonably-priced choice. The Hyatt Place is also a good choice. Generally speaking, I like staying near capitol square because it makes it easy to walk to many things you’ll want to do, and to stumble home drunk on cheese curds and beer. Bottom line: You don’t really go to Madison for the hotels, so just get a good deal at someplace comfortable.
Timing: Because the farmers market is Saturday morning, I think it is best to arrive in Madison on a Thursday or Friday and head back to Chicago with a car full of fresh food on Saturday. Because of all of the delicious food to eat, I think a two night stay is ideal, though one night will do in a pinch. If you’re visiting in the autumn, I would check the football schedule to see if there is a home game. It makes a difference. You may or may not like the difference.
When to go: I’ve been to Madison in every season and I think they’re all great. October is probably my favorite month to visit, but summer is wonderful and less busy because school and the legislature are out of session. I’ve also gone mid-winter and had fun, though it can get cold.
Wisconsin cocktails are sweet. Too sweet for me, even at nice restaurants. The only exceptions I have found are at Forequarter and Gibs. But mostly, stick with beer. Even at the lamest tourist restaurant you will be able to get a delicious pint of locally brewed beer, and it will be cheap. Delicious cheap beer is a core Wisconsin value. #bless
Eat fried cheese curds. As many as you can, as often as you can.
Stop at a Woodman’s to see what seems like the largest grocery store in the world, that happens to be employee owned. They sell New Glarus beer, the coveted only-in-Wisconsin brew that Illinoisans bring back to friends.
Finally: Wisconsin is a pretty conservative state, though you wouldn’t know it in Madison. In 2011 Governor Scott Walker (a legit monster) and the Republican legislature’s anti-union agenda prompted some serious, and impressive, resistance by people in Madison, and throughout the state. Ever since the Wisconsin Uprising (as it has been called), a Solidarity Sing Along has taken place in or around the capitol building. It takes place every day at noon and anyone can join. Protest songs are sung, and camaraderie is fostered. It’s a really beautiful thing that makes me happy to be a human and so proud of everyone who participates.
Grill some brats, tap a keg
And pass the cheddar
We’ll be here ‘til Wisconsin gets better
Vicky Cassidy says:
July 22nd, 2015 at 9:31 am
I’m a Chicago transplant that has been living in Madison for 11 years. I think you pretty much nailed it, although you left out the entire Monroe Street neighboorhood which has lots of amazing things to do. First, let’s talk about the food: Brassarie V, Gates and Brovi, Pizza Brutta, Jaqs. There’s Vilas Park and the Zoo, the Arboretum, Orange Tree Imports…
Next time you’re in Madison, I recommend you head to this neighborhood. I’ll even buy you a drink (I don’t consider them too sweet…or is it that they’ve just grown on me?).
July 22nd, 2015 at 9:43 am
Hi Vicky! I will take you up on that offer. I’ve been to Monroe Street and liked it but would love a local tour. Also, maybe I order the wrong drinks?! Although, in my defense, several times I have asked for the least sweet drink on the menu and still been surprised by the sweetness. Wisconsin residency changes the palate? (Also (!): Jenny and Matt built your site! Nice!)
July 22nd, 2015 at 9:55 am
You make me want to visit Madison. Sure Venice is nice, Paris, Tokyo – but there’s so much PRESSURE to DO when you tour the hot spots! The laid back 5 lake front charm of liberal Madison you describe here is mighty appealing to me. Who can argue with the best farmers market in the country!
July 22nd, 2015 at 9:56 am
It’s been awhile since my grad school days there, but I would also add Alchemy, Batch bakery, Glass Nickel, Sophia’s and Mickey’s (East side) for brunch, mostly because of there Bloody Mary. Excited to try your faves, Tim! I reread your honeymoon post every time I go to London. :)
July 22nd, 2015 at 9:57 am
Tim, come to Lincoln, Neb! Complete your tour of Midwest State Capitol/University towns.
On another note: I was in Chicago this weekend and went to the Chicago Athletic Association for drinks…and then went back for drinks the next night. What a brilliant space.
July 22nd, 2015 at 10:08 am
Cate! Have you been to Nopi yet? Every day I am sad I am not eating there. xo
Paul- Great views, eh? And yes, I hope to get to Lincoln sometime soon. I love me some underdog cities.
July 22nd, 2015 at 10:44 am
Yes! We’ve been living in Madison for almost five years now, though we will be moving back to MN soon. Besides our friends, the biggest thing we will miss here is the food and the culture surrounding it (and, of course, the beer). I agree with Vicky on Monroe Street-some great restaurants and little shops. Bluephies has our favorite brunch in the area. The New Glarus brewery isn’t far from here either, and worth a stop for a tasting in their amazing (and extensive) outdoor space.
July 22nd, 2015 at 10:54 am
Aw, this brings me back! I love Madison. Sipping a Spotted Cow on the Union Terrace on a sunny day is pretty much heaven. I like the fried cheese curds at the Blue Moon Bar & Grill the best. :)
July 22nd, 2015 at 10:59 am
Totally fell in love with Madison the one time I visited. The farmer’s market in front of the Capitol building was amazing. I had some bakery’s famous cheese bread, which is one of the best things I’ve ever eaten.
Vicky Cassidy says:
July 22nd, 2015 at 11:17 am
Jenny happens to be my sister :). How do you know her!?
July 22nd, 2015 at 12:13 pm
Oh no! How dare you share the best kept secret with the masses? ;)
A few things missed, in my humble former-Milwaukeean-turned-Chicagoan opinion (though, my husband and I did “honeymoon” in Madison…) I’m all for the Chocolate Shoppe, but I think Babcock Hall ice cream from the union while sitting on the terrace is just the best thing ever. And, the Mansion Hill B&B is pretty $$$ but its super lovely and breakfast is from Madison Sourdough, so, win win!
July 22nd, 2015 at 12:13 pm
Yes! Love this list. It makes me want to hop on a plane now. My husband is from not-far Iowa City and almost went to school in Madison. This city has been on our list of places to visit for some time, and now we know where to go once we’re there! Long live cheese curds and beer.
July 22nd, 2015 at 12:21 pm
Alison- Babcock is great, I agree. I think the beer ends up being a bigger draw for me on the terrace and so I sometimes forget about the ice cream.
July 22nd, 2015 at 12:26 pm
I moved to Madison for grad school 9 years ago…it’s really easy to drag out the process with such a nice place to live.
The first thing I’d add to this list is MEDITERRANEAN CAFE. I’ve had the spinach cheese pie twice a week for years. And the guy who runs the place is so nice.
I’d also second Brasserie V.
I’m less enthusiastic about many of the major foodie establishments in the area (all the Underground businesses, Graze, Heritage Tavern, Pig in a Fur Coat, etc.) because they’re so incredibly meat-heavy. For the “classic Wisconsin” stuff, I actually prefer the bigger menus at the Old Fashioned and The Great Dane. There are also tons of ethnic restaurants worth checking out, including several solid Lao places.
There are several good taquerias on the west side, including Guadalajara, La Mestiza (cheap cactus tacos!), and a constantly-under-new-managements place at Midvale and the Beltline. This last place is right by Le Tigre, a dive bar that must be experienced to be believed (it’s completely stuffed with tiger decor and doodads). Guadalajara is not far from a new-ish and very good Chinese bakery. There’s a brand-new Mexican place (El Sabor de Puebla) on Willy Street that’s pretty good.
New Seoul Korean recently moved way out West, almost to Middleton, but they’re worth a trip.
David’s Jamaican, which I think is actually in Monona, has an extensive and reliable Friday dinner buffet.
Ichiban (which is, confusingly, Chinese) is not my cup of tea, but it’s definitely the place to go for Sichuan cuisine. Wah Kee is good and has homemade noodles.
Also: Lombardino’s, Sophia’s, 4 & 20 (it now has New Orleans-style iced coffee w/chicory), Banzo, Manna Cafe, Mermaid Cafe (banh meatless = sandwich of the century!), The Weary Traveler.
And for cheap late-night pizza on State Street, I actually like Pizza di Roma.
If you want a wonderful little country drive, take Highway 18 to Jefferson and go to Wedl’s Hamburger Stand & Ice Cream Shop. (It’s also near a drive-in movie theater.)
July 22nd, 2015 at 12:35 pm
AMC- Thanks for all of those recs. I’ve been to a lot of them, and considered including a couple on this list. I’m always disappointed in the Old Fashioned, though I know it is well-loved. I hate the space and crowds and just think the food is OK. I like Weary Traveler, but again I think the food is average. But you know, it was just a list of my favorite places so there will be limits anyway. I never found Forequarter to be meat-heavy, though I agree that it can be a focus at some of the other places you mentioned…though that isn’t a problem for me in either case. And coming from Chicago, I might be spoiled by access to great Mexican food. Anyway, thanks for taking the time to share. I look forward to trying!
July 22nd, 2015 at 12:47 pm
Great picks! I also love Himal Chuli for good eats on State Street and Weary Traveler on Willy for somewhat inconsistent food, but a great neighborhood atmosphere.
July 22nd, 2015 at 12:50 pm
Thanks, Kira! Himal Chuli has been on my list for ages and we still haven’t made it. Will try next time. Excited to hear you guys moved back!
Deena B says:
July 22nd, 2015 at 1:19 pm
I wish I had known you were here. Did you forget Granpa’s Pizzeria nextdoor to Gib’s? They do magical things there and grow much of the produce for the restaurant in raised beds in the back yard. I’m so glad you included mention of the Solidarity Singalong. I hope you let us know you were there that day and got a welcome shout-out!
Pam S says:
July 22nd, 2015 at 1:30 pm
The once I was in Madison was all I needed to fall in love. It is like Portland’s snowy brother. Only with less affect. And snow.
July 22nd, 2015 at 4:34 pm
Vicky! Just saw your second comment. WHAT?!? Funny small world. I’ve known Jenny for years and years. She went to RISD with some other friends.
SUSAN HERRMANN LOOMIS says:
July 22nd, 2015 at 5:08 pm
Great, great post. Do you ever go to Door County?
Dena Bray says:
July 22nd, 2015 at 5:24 pm
I love Madison, too. No explanation necessary. I love Madison.
July 22nd, 2015 at 6:34 pm
Thank you! We lived outside Madison for 6 years and have been in Massachusetts for 7. Boy, do we miss the amazing food, beer, and atmosphere in and around Madison. Gail Ambrosius chocolate is so amazing, we order it for special occasions. I concur with others regarding Himal Chuli. Your review indicates how much the city and its dining has evolved over these last years, which is exciting. Though I imagine I could go there this Saturday and see many of the same vendors at the Market. And I would feel at home. That was one of our very favorite things to do–go to the Saturday Market. Again, thank you.
July 22nd, 2015 at 8:45 pm
Great post, thank you! My boyfriend and I loved Madison when we visited last March. We found a bakery called Batch Bakehouse that you might want to add to your list of places to try. I’m keeping your list handy for next time we’re there too!
July 23rd, 2015 at 6:48 am
I hate to break it to you, but “Burn”ie’s isn’t really a rock shop. It is a front for essentially a marijuana boutique, hence the name, the crystals laid out in a marijuana shape, and the dozens of teenagers in pajamas and hoodies who need to buy crystals from 7:30am to 10:30pm…
July 23rd, 2015 at 7:25 am
JJ- Burnie’s may be many things, but one of those things is definitely a rock shop.
Shannon Y. says:
July 23rd, 2015 at 7:40 am
Good roundup! I’ve been in Madison for three years and have been in love every second of that time. I have to second some nods to Brasserie V for their beer selection (their menu needs to change though) and would encourage you to visit Oliver’s Public House for excellent drinks and brunch. It’s relatively new (opened in the fall) but my husband and I are there almost every weekend. We’ve never had a bad thing.
Bluephie’s is okay but I think you can do better in Madison (e.g., Sardine). I did have a killer shishito pepper and chorizo pizza at Grampa’s the last time I went to Gibs. If you haven’t been, definitely go. Or maybe their pizza is always good because it comes after a drink or two at Gibs … ? If you and Vicky want a tagalong to eat your scraps as you roll your way from restaurant to restaurant the next time you’re in town, I’m your girl.
July 23rd, 2015 at 8:10 am
I’ve recently become convinced that Wisconsin has one of the strongest regional food cultures in the country. I can’t say I’m a fan of all of it (not such a huge fan of brandy Manhattans but their beer is tops) but I respect the hell out of it. Love that farmers market around the capitol. As a Chicagoan I’m jealous.
July 23rd, 2015 at 9:27 am
You should check out Old Sugar Distillery on the near east side! They make yummy cocktails with house made spirits crafted from local ingredients. The cocktails are very reasonably priced, and they have great outdoor seating!
July 23rd, 2015 at 9:30 am
Shannon- thanks! I am looking forward to our food tour. ; )
Courtney- Ah, yes, it is totally on our list. We were at Fete de Marquette a couple of weeks ago and almost walked over. Will go next time for sure.
July 23rd, 2015 at 10:45 am
We moved to Madison 6 years ago and I think you nailed it. Loved your opening photo, I’m a reader of bumper stickers (yes, I’m the crazy lady who gets just a bit too close so I can read the back of your car) and Madison never fails to amuse. As an East Coast transplant I thank Salvatore’s Tomato Pies for rescuing me from the mundane. Have you seen their motto, All Wisco No Sysco? And I have to agree, whoever first thought to put Korbel Brandy in an Old Fashioned needs to be punished. Sweet is one word for it. There are others…
July 23rd, 2015 at 12:29 pm
Hey ya’ll! Glad to hear you liked our shop! Stop in and say hi next time you’re in town! :o)
July 23rd, 2015 at 12:32 pm
Love it! Great write up. I suggest you make it up for Yum Yum Fest in August if you can, it seems like it would be right up your alley! Now off to convince my husband we need a night out to try Layla’s…
July 23rd, 2015 at 2:13 pm
JJ, I’m not sure where you are getting your information or insights, but Burnie’s is not a front. I’ve lived in the neighborhood for 10+ years, and trust me, I’d know if it was.
July 23rd, 2015 at 3:24 pm
This certainly makes Madison sound like a foodie destination. Since I’m on the East Coast, I’ll have to remember it as a side trip the next time we ride the motorcycle around the Great Lakes.
July 24th, 2015 at 10:14 am
I second the recommendation for Mansion Hill Inn – although it is expensive, it is really lovely, and is in walking distance to the farmer’s market (unless you’re three, and then I recommend a stroller).
July 24th, 2015 at 10:28 am
Folks recommending the Mansion Hill Inn: I’d love to hear more. Is it really worth the $100-$200 a night MORE than you would spend at other hotels in town? The prices have always made me skeptical. I’ve stayed at some pretty spectacular hotels for $380 a night. I want to be convinced…..; )
July 24th, 2015 at 11:41 am
Tim, did you know that there is a Chocolate Shoppe outpost in Edgebrook (on Devon, between Pulaski and Central)??? I haven’t seen the blueberry flavor that you mention, but the lemon meringue is summer encapsulated!
Allison T. says:
July 24th, 2015 at 1:18 pm
Another Chicago native turned Madison transplant – 13 years and counting for me!
While I have a soft spot for New Glarus, if you want beer that runs a little bit hoppier, there are a ton of Madison locals that have tastier beer than Spotted Cow (sacrilegious!): Ale Asylum, Karben4, One Barrel and Next Door to name a few!
+1 for Sardine, Batch Bakehouse, Mickey’s and Alchemy, and Mermaid Cafe in the Atwood neighborhood is a great little shop in my hood.
VOM FASS, an oil and vinegar (and barrel aged whiskey) shop is great, and they’ve just added a State Street location. It is a chain, but a chain without a Chicago (or hardly any major city, it appears) location.
Also want to second Vicky’s reco on Orange Tree Imports – Madison’s original (and crammed to the gills with good stuff) kitchen store!
Kimberly Lennert says:
July 24th, 2015 at 2:45 pm
Love Madison and will jot some of these ideas down for our next visit.
Nostrano’s and Grampas (connected with Gibs) was a hit when we visited last weekend.
Lombardino’s for old school vibe, but terrific Italian food. Ready for another road trip!
We tend to overlook small cities as destinations, but I have found some great things happening in towns like Lexington, KY- Des Moines-etc.
July 24th, 2015 at 3:28 pm
Keri- That is so funny. I have been to that ice cream shop and never realized it is the same, though I always enjoyed their ice cream.
Kim- I need to go back to Nostrano. I enjoyed my meal there, but wanted to enjoy it more. I’ll try again next time I am there.
Allison- I definitely don’t want hoppier! Yikes. I think we have different beer palates. ; ) But I have liked Ale Asylum and Karben4 for sure. Sardine is another place I maybe need to try again. But mostly, Allison, I want to talk about VOM FASS. Are Bryan and I the only people who think that sounds like cutesy talk for “Vomit Fast”?! As in “OMG, I gotta vom fas”. We were so horrified by the name that we just couldn’t.
Thanks for all of the recommendations! I’m looking forward to my next visit.
Blair Carothers says:
July 27th, 2015 at 6:34 pm
Preach! Madison, Wisconsin is fantastic! I am also from Chicago and I think you are right! Madison is the best!
July 28th, 2015 at 11:05 am
Yay! It was a treat to share a beer with you and Bryan. Hope it’s the first shared beers of many.
Also, when I went to Layla’s, the woman there (not Layla) said Layla wasn’t there because an additional Layla’s is opening on S. Park Street. More on food on S. Park: http://host.madison.com/entertainment/dining/a-growing-and-eclectic-mix-of-restaurants-make-park-street/article_9981c0ec-347e-5596-a36f-4a9e0a35f03c.html. There’s also another Burnie’s on S. Park…
July 28th, 2015 at 1:11 pm
On the Mansion Hill Inn, I think we’ve paid about $260 a night staying in the fall. I think it’s worth the extra $100-$150, but I really dislike the chain hotel experience, so I might be biased. If you’re really just going for the food and you don’t mind generic hotels, then it’s probably not worth it, but for me, the place I’m staying tends to greatly impact my enjoyment of a vacation (even if it’s just a weekend), so I think it’s worth the splurge.
July 28th, 2015 at 1:14 pm
Marlena- It was so great! thanks for taking the time.
I can’t believe Laila was not there. Funny. Yeah, she told me that she was opening a new place in an old Taco Bell over there…it looks like it is called Noosh. Can’t wait to try it.
July 28th, 2015 at 1:18 pm
Thanks, Mindy! I am usually in agreement and seek out nice hotels. Last time we looked the only rooms available were $300+, which seemed sort of crazy to me for anywhere in the Midwest (including Chicago)…but maybe it was a popular time. We’ll try it at some point.
July 29th, 2015 at 9:46 am
I think someone mentioned it already – but, HIMAL CHULI!!!!
August 6th, 2015 at 11:48 am
Love the first “cover” photo on this post because it says so much about Madison. People are passionate there! I lived in Madison for three years for graduate school, and then came here to Chicago. I miss it, and there’s a few places on your list I haven’t gone to that I will be sure to check out the next time I visit. Lastly, I am 100% with all you Weary Traveler fans.
August 17th, 2015 at 9:17 pm
Hi. I’m a little late, but really enjoyed the post. I have lived in Madison twice (long ago and for the last few years) and do enjoy so many of the places you mentioned. I also loved the first photo. This is the only place I have lived where people go so crazy with bumper stickers!
I would add that the Old Fashioned has an amazing special on Mondays, 2 for 1 burgers a la carte. Get an order of cheese curds and some beer and you are set on a budget!
A great little Thai place on the far east side is Sala Thai on Fair Oaks has lovely ambiance and is run by a sweet family. Cash only, but the best seasoning and heat that I have had in Madison. (I got hooked on amazing Thai food after many years in California and this gets really close).
Fun diner breakfasts (nothing fancy) at the Curve on Park St. with a pancake bigger than a dinner plate.
If you want a nice toasted bagel for 48 cents or something crazy like that, go to the Bagels Forever factory store on University near UW hospital.
Near there across the street is La Brioche that has delicious pastries to go, as well as a sit-down section with great quiche.
But if I can offer one place you didn’t mention (maybe you were trying to keep the secret!), it’s the Italian Workmen’s Club (aka Greenbush Bar) on Regent Street. You might ask if you are at the right place, but just head downstairs. You feel like you might be in a restaurant in the Village or in some kind of converted basement with Christmas lights on the ceiling. Great pizzas and nice vibe.
For your store sections, thanks for giving so much love in your post to Johnson St! The Cork and Bottle wine shop has wine tastings on Saturdays from 3pm-6pm, a great selection of wines and local beers, as well as great owners and employees who are very friendly. Worth checking out if you are in town for the weekend.
And I marvel at Woodman’s every week when I go there for groceries. God forbid you forget something at the other end of the store!!!
Hannah Webber says:
August 18th, 2015 at 3:13 pm
How timely! I’ve just moved back to Wisco (where I am from) after a 15 year hiatus. I live in a small town about 2 hours away and plan to use Madison as my city-fix with great frequency. Headed there this weekend and I am very much looking forward to scoping out a few of these spots. I’ll have a rambunctious toddler in tow so the fancy spots will have to wait but the pizza, coffee, beer, outdoor time and coolers of food to go is happening. Thank you!
August 19th, 2015 at 8:10 am
Most of my family now lives in Madison so we visit a couple times of year. My husband and I have fallen in love with Madison and can’t wait to go back to eat and drink our way around town. Madison has so many awesome restaurants and of course craft beer!!
August 23rd, 2015 at 9:26 am
Came to your site circuitously and immediately found your Madison post. A native of the Southwest, I spent a wonderful 3 years in my twenties in Madison and grew to love everything about that city and state. Came back frequently to visit really great in-laws.
Thank you, certainly brings back fond memories.
September 24th, 2015 at 1:59 pm
Woodmans is in IL as well…but without the New Glarus, unfortunately. Also, the coolest thing (I think) about Madison’s farmer’s market is you MUST produce/make/grow etc what you sell. It’s all direct, which probably accounts for the lower prices compared to those in Chicago. I hate when I get to a market and see oranges. Ain’t no way they were grown in the midwest (although they are generally marked grown in FL, so it’s somewhat transparent). And the best is when they have the grocery store stickers on them. Le sigh.
September 24th, 2015 at 2:08 pm
Hi Jess- Chicago’s largest farmers market is also producer-only, but much more expensive. I think the lower cost is due to a variety of reasons. And yes, for me, Woodmans just isn’t the same without New Glarus. ; )
September 30th, 2015 at 10:55 am
Hi Tim! I just stumbled across your website (found the link thanks to Smitten Kitchen’s ‘Good Reads’ link (thanks Deb!) and then promptly found myself reading this article on my favorite town in the US. I’m a Wisconsin transplant and self-proclaimed ‘Madisonian’ and I love this land. Your article has hit the nail on the head! The restaurant scene in Madison has changed me into a foodie, and you’ve listed most of my favorite spots. May I suggest a new addition to the downtown area? Tory Miller (of Graze, L’Etoile, Sujeo) has opened a new Spanish tapas restaurant close to State Street called Estrellon. I would highly recommend dinner here on your next trip…the food is lovely. Also, one of my favorite spots is Grampa’s Pizzaria; it’s very close to home and one of my favorite places to eat (although Sal’s is about to win my heart over with their pizza pies and outdoor seating right next to Johnson Public House). Regardless, Grampa’s is worth a try if you’ve never been. Thanks for the glowing review of our beautiful city!
Laura Lee says:
January 3rd, 2016 at 8:52 pm
My husband was born and raised in Madison. We visit his family (with our 3 children) every summer for at least 2 weeks! If we were to move anywhere, it would be there! I loved all of your suggestions and also you hit a few I haven’t been to yet. A few I would add are Lombardino’s – an institution in Madison which has fantastic Italian food – and Colectivo Coffee on Monroe St. One of the finest lattes in the city! Yum! Can’t wait to get back to Madison!!