In the world of food, there are a few major awards that can really set a restaurant apart from its peers. These awards include the Michelin Star Guide, the James Beard Awards, Zagat, and the Bib Gourmand Award, also through Michelin. In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, there are no Michelin Stars, because the Michelin Guide only covers very specific states within the U.S. While the guide is expanding, it isn’t by any means the only award that holds weight within the culinary community. Milwaukee is home to some truly great restaurants; in January of 2023, there were three major restaurants in the city that were up for a James Beard Award.
The James Beard Award, which will be mentioned several times on this list, was named for an icon in the culinary community by the name of, you guessed it, James Beard. Referred to as the “Dean of American cookery” (New York Times) Beard was a cookbook author, food program host, and a pioneer in the world of American cuisine. Beard grew up in Portland, Oregon, a place that Michelin doesn’t actually cover in terms of ratings. His cooking school was started In 1955, where he trained a whole generation of chefs (via James Beard).
The award is centered around a chef’s skill and unique cuisine creativity. It also looks at the leadership of a restaurant, its values, inclusivity, diversity, and ethics within the food community. A committee of journalists, food experts, and past James Beard Award winners vote on semifinalists before a smaller committee decides on the finalists (via Eater). Let’s take a look at some of the comparable to Michelin Star restaurants in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Lupi & Iris
777 N Van Buren St., Milwaukee, WI 53202
Lupi & Iris was a semifinalist for the Best New Restaurant category in the 2023 James Beard Awards. It is co-owned by James Beard Award Winner Chef Adam Siegel and Michael DeMichele, a well-known member of the real estate and architectural community. The resulting restaurant is sleek, hospitable, and delicious. The idea behind the restaurant is a celebration of family and the act of gathering to share a meal and enjoy time together. Named for both owners' respective grandparents, the menu is focused on the trademark recipes of both French and Italian Riviera-style cooking. Lupi & Iris is open for breakfast, brunch, lunch, and dinner. They also have a prix fixe menu that guests can partake in to get the full, and beautiful, culinary experience offered by Siegel and his team.
Using the freshest seasonal ingredients, the menu changes quite often, but currently, it features options such as roasted squash, ravioli with squash and sheep's milk, a bone-in New York strip, and swordfish, among others. For dessert, enjoy some olive oil cake, chocolate praline, or seasonal sorbets. Yum!
360 East Erie Street, Milwaukee, WI 53202
DanDan is a collaboration between chefs Dan Jacobs and Dan Van Rite. DanDan is considered a “modern Chinese-American restaurant,” and first opened its doors in July of 2016. Their menu includes dim sum, rice & noodle dishes, dumplings, and a 3-course house specialties section. But this isn't your classic Chinese food – everything comes with a twist.
Their house specialties feature wonton soup, duck breast with scallion pancakes, and duck leg chow fun. This trio of dishes combines for $85 total per person. Eat, drink, and be merry with their wide variety of alcohol, wine, sake, and draught beers to pair with your food. DanDan isn't the only creation by these collaborative chefs. For another great restaurant by this pair in Milwaukee, simply keep on reading.
360 East Erie Street, Milwaukee, WI 53202
Opened only a short time after DanDan, EsterEv is Jacobs's and Van Rite's second restaurant in Milwaukee. And if the address looks familiar, it's because this fine dining concept restaurant is housed within their first restaurant DanDan. Both Chefs of EsterEv were up for the best chef category in the 2023 James Beard Awards. This is another restaurant named for family members- in this case, the duo's respective grandmothers, Ester and Evelyn.
EsterEv features an 8-course pre-fixe menu with recipes from all over the world. Open for reservations on Fridays and Saturday evenings, the menu costs $95 per person and offers a wine pairing for an extra $45. The meal starts with a caviar tater tot paired with anchovy toast. Next up is their take on albacore and their Mastsutake dish. Other stand-outs on their current menu are the halibut and pork tenderloin. Dessert currently includes a pear crème fraiche with lemon, honey, and almond, and an apple dessert. The restaurant sources the freshest ingredients for the week's culinary experience.
315 East Wisconsin Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53202
Amilinda‘s Chef Gregory León was a semifinalist in the 2023 James Beard Awards for Best Chef. The restaurant draws inspiration from Spanish and Portuguese recipes to craft a menu well worth a trip to downtown Milwaukee. Using locally-sourced ingredients, starter items for Amilinda include roasted eggplant, a cucumber and carrot salad, and a pear and quinoa salad.
For mains, check out their tuna with roasted cauliflower, spinach pie, and their roasted chicken and apples. Check out their happy hour offerings if you happen to be near downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Their menu changes frequently, so make sure to check their website for the latest offerings.
1751 North Farwell Ave., Milwaukee, WI 53202
Ardent gets its name from the adjective, which means to express warmth, passion, enthusiasm, and desire. The food and atmosphere fit the name, providing a serene and comfortable experience, with a menu full of thoughtfully created items designed by chef Justin Carlisle. Because ingredients are freshly sourced, the menu is apt to change. However, the sample menu on their website showcases a nice variety of courses, with wine pairings galore.
The current fall sampling features snacks like a beer cheese pretzel. Next up, you'll enjoy caviar with koji ice cream and onion soup. Beef tartare, New York strip steak, and bronzini are other highlights to note. Be sure to save room for dessert, which is currently your choice between cranberry sorbet and madras carrot cake. This is a great option for comparable to Michelin Star restaurants in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
1547 N Jackson St, Milwaukee, WI 53202
Sanford is a fine dining experience in the heart of the Milwaukee food scene. Heralded by chef Justin Aprahamian, a James Beard “Best Chef” Award finalist, the restaurant came into his ownership in December 2012. He expanded the menu, keeping some of the restaurant's staple dishes while adding local breweries and wineries to their drinks menu. There are four-course menu ($95) options as well as a seven-course tasting menu ($120) available for those who want the full Sanford culinary experience.
Given the seasonal value of certain ingredients, the menu can change between tastings. However, a sample menu may include excellent dishes like watercress gnocchi, roasted tomato and basil soup, pink pearl apple salad, and chargrilled wild striped bass. Be ready for your pick of desserts, such as a cranberry walnut tart, hot fudge toffee nut ball, and black tea cake. Sanford is truly a unique culinary experience in Milwaukee, WI.
The image featured at the top of this post is ©ESstock/Shutterstock.com.