Milwaukee has transformed from beer and brats to a city filled with sophisticated dining options. Here are the best romantic restaurants in Milwaukee.
I grew up in Milwaukee, and in the 1990s, I could count on one hand the number of restaurants I’d have classified as the sort of fine dining establishment worthy of a date night scene in a romantic comedy. Fast forward to today, and Milwaukee is a city transformed from its beer, brats, and blue-collar past. Sophisticated dining, secluded spots, and trendy multi-course tasting menus dominate the dining scene. On a recent trip home with my new husband, we explored today’s romantic restaurants in Milwaukee.
Lupi & Iris, a New Romantic Restaurant in Milwaukee
The newest entry into Milwaukee’s dining scene is Lupi & Iris from James Beard Award-winning Chef Adam Siegel and developer Michael DeMichele. The restaurant is named for Siegel’s father-in-law and DeMichele’s grandma.
The downtown eatery boasts a menu inspired by the chef’s experiences working in France, Italy, and the United States. Even on Thursdays, the lively, modern restaurant is packed. Nibbling on focaccia and sipping a crisp French white, we perused the menu. We decided to order several items to share since this was supposed to be a romantic date night.
We started with the Calamari alla Griglia, grilled calamari on a bed of Belgian endive, tomatoes, chickpeas with citrus, and mint. A small portion of the handmade Linguine al Limone followed this dish. We lightened up for the main course and split the Roasted Snapper en papillote served with potatoes, zucchini, tomatoes, olive tapenade, and rosemary. Despite being stuffed, no romantic meal is over before dessert, especially when there’s a Chocolat Fondant on the menu.
If there was one restaurant that signaled the evolution of Milwaukee dining, it’s Ardent. A 12-course, prix-fixe gourmand eatery was unheard of when I lived in the city. Today it’s so popular that you better book at least a month in advance if you want to score a table at this east-side gem.
Chef Justin Carlisle has been a perennial nominee for James Beard Best Chef in the Midwest and Ardent a semi-finalist for the best new restaurant. Business Insider has called it the best restaurant in Wisconsin.
The 20-seat restaurant isn’t going to wow you with its décor. However, it will delight you with the beautifully plated and equally delicious dishes from the small kitchen. The menu rotates seasonally with the early fall lineup, including dishes like caviar, sea scallop, beef tartare, and a dry-aged duck breast.
The Pasta Tree, a Familiar Romantic Restaurant in Milwaukee
While much has changed in the Milwaukee dining scene, some things have stayed the same, including The Pasta Tree on the city’s east side. Back in college, this was the romantic restaurant you’d hope your starving student boyfriend would save up for and take you to.
On a double date with my high school bestie and her husband, we remarked that very little seemed to have changed in the space. Although, the waiter insisted we were in the “new” section. The restaurant is cozy and has a European bistro vibe. The garden patio adds an extra dose of romance if you visit in summer.
The pasta, sauces, and bread are all made from scratch. Italian classics like cioppino, carbonara, lasagna, and manicotti are very popular..
For a more modern spin on Italian in a dark and moody atmosphere, Dorsia on Brady Street is your spot. During my college days, the street was a hotspot for nightlife, and it’s still one of the liveliest streets in the city.
For date night, nothing beats Dorsia’s pasta flights. Couples can select up to five kinds of pasta to create their own unique flight. We learned that unless you have a huge appetite, stick to two or three selections. Some of the most popular choices include lobster mac, shrimp sprecata, picante, and Medi-veggie ravioli. The pasta flight arrives on a large wooden board, similar to charcuterie, and makes for a fun meal to share.
Lake Park Bistro, a Stunning and Romantic Restaurant in Milwaukee
My favorite thing in Milwaukee is Lake Michigan, so any restaurant with views of the lake is romantic in my book. Lake Park Bistro is located in Lake Park—the park designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the same designer who created New York’s famed Central Park.
Located in a park pavilion, Lake Park Bistro was the first fine French restaurant in the city. It has been called the city’s most romantic restaurant. It’s part of the city’s Bartolotta restaurant group. Restaurateur Joe Bartolotta and his brother, two-time James Beard Award-winning Chef Paul Bartolotta, own the group.
While the restaurant offers an a la carte menu, the reasonably priced Haute Bistro menu is the way to go for a date night. Start the meal with the Oeuf Mollet Avec Cepes Champignons, a lightly breaded and fried soft-boiled egg with porcini mushrooms and a black truffle-brown butter vinaigrette. For the second course, I'd opt for the filet of salmon with a creamy sorrel sauce. Finally, for the main dish, I'd suggest the poached sea bass followed by the chocolate mousse for dessert.
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Set the Stage for Romance
A night out sampling the new dining scene in Milwaukee will set the stage for romance with your special someone. It will also make you fall a little more in love with this underrated fabulous city by the great lake. Let Wander With Wonder help you find the perfect restaurant when planning a dinner out. We also have more suggestions for things to see and do in Milwaukee and throughout the Midwest.