20 Foods And Drinks You Have To Try In Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Milwaukee is known as "The City of Festivals" and "Brew City." You'll find incredible museums and universities among its busy streets and plenty of green space. Not to mention, the theaters and parks offer educational opportunities and unforgettable evenings. And no spring afternoon is complete without taking in a Brewers game. But perhaps most notably, Milwaukee's must-have food and drink list is full of delicious, comfort-loving food that will make you fall in love with this midwestern town.

Here, you witness those brutal Wisconsin winters and brilliant leaf-changing falls. You'll also have your choice of dozens of different breweries dreaming up delicious drafts perfect for soothing those workweek woes. Fancy a bowl of warming soup to complement that stunning IPA? Milwaukee has you covered there, too.

Milwaukee's cuisine honors its past while welcoming changing times and tastes. With everything from herring to cream puffs, these Midwestern bites are somewhat eclectic, though primarily humble, and their choices are nothing short of scrumptious.


There's perhaps no food or drink more emblematic of Milwaukee than beer. And, as Visit Milwaukee reports, the city has a longstanding tradition of creating beer that stands the test of time and changing palates. From the Milwaukee on the map, like Miller and Schlitz, to the newer favorites, no trip to this Wisconsin city is complete without raising a pint.

Though you could order a Miller High Life at nearly any bar in the city, you can also check out the brewing process at the brewery right in Milwaukee. With over 160 years of experience and a brewing legacy, Miller is a perfect choice if you want a classic favorite.

If you're looking for something a little less traditional, but no less delicious, look no further than Lakefront Brewery. The Riverwest Stein pays homage to the neighborhood in which Lakefront was founded, and is a delicious amber lager with a slight sweetness. It's perfect for a drink after work or a gathering with friends. This beer has been winning awards since 1991, and OnMilwaukee even named it a Best Local Product in 2020. From August to October, the real winner is its Pumpkin Lager, made from real pumpkins and spices. If you follow a gluten-free diet, Lakefront also has excellent options like the New Grist and La Gosa Rita.

Fresh cheese curds

Cheese curds aren't just one of the best ingredients in poutine; they are also a Wisconsin staple. And as stated by Milwaukee Magazine, they're as iconic as lobster rolls and key lime from other parts of the country.

If you're new to the world of cheese curds, you may wonder what these oddly shaped cheese pieces actually are. Cheese curds are pieces of freshly curdled milk. While that might not sound appetizing, cheese curds are not only unreasonably delicious, they also make their own music. That's right: Fresh cheese curds should squeak. Though strange, the reason why cheese curds squeak is simple. When the calcium and protein meet your tooth enamel, those curds should make a squeaking sound. Unfortunately, a non-squeaky curd could mean that it is no longer fresh.

One of the best places to find fresh cheese curds in Milwaukee is the Wisconsin Cheese Mart. There, you'll find cheddar cheese curds in various packs in various sizes. It even ships throughout the country if you're hoping for some of that Milwaukee taste delivered right to your door.

Fried cheese curds

While fried cheese curds certainly have a place in the Milwaukee culinary scene, they also have a rather ancient origin story. Radio Milwaukee shares that this beloved fried food dates back as far as Ancient Rome when the Romans cooked up "Globuli." They took curds of cheese and fried them in olive oil after coating them in flour. They also rolled them in honey for a little extra sweetness.

Deep-fried cheese curds are so popular that most Milwaukee pubs and restaurants offer them as appetizers. Even still, some of the very best curds you'll find in the city come from Lakefront Brewery in its beer hall. These fried cheese curds come in a shareable size portion. They are beer-battered and then served with a garlic ranch dipping sauce. Lakefront also has a touring CurdWagon. This food truck serves up fried cheese curds and other Milawkee favorites around the city.


Milwaukee knows how to whip up a great brew, but it also houses some fantastic sangria. Sangria comes in many different varieties, but what's really in sangria is simple, since most recipes consist of wine, fruit, and herbs or spices.

In the early days of the Roman empire, this fruity wine drink was essential for the safety of the drinker. Since the water was unsafe to drink, watered-down wine became a little more palatable with some fresh fruit and herbs. In 1964, the drink made its way to America during the World's Fair in New York City.

Hotel Madrid offers some of the best sangria in the city. On the menu, you'll find red, white, and seasonal sangria as well as a flight option. Milwaukee is also home to the Lost Whale, a bar run by Daniel Beres and Tripper Duval. Together, they created the company Odyssea Sangria, a canned sangria you can find throughout Milwaukee and Wisconsin as a whole.

Old Fashioned

A traditional and smooth old fashioned is typically a combination of orange peel, whiskey, sugar, and bitters. But with every popular drink, pubs and mixologists add their own spin on the recipe with different spirits, flavored bitters, and garnishes.

Urban Milwaukee says that a proper old fashioned in Wisconsin should include brandy. In fact, Wisconsin Brandy Old Fashioned Month takes place throughout September. During that time, the Turner Hall Ballroom also hosts an Old Fashioned Fest, putting local distilleries and bars against one another to determine the best of the best. In 2022, Patti's Power Plant won the award for Best Brandy Old Fashioned, and the award for Best Whiskey Old Fashioned went to Tavern Team.

Boone & Crockett on Milwaukee's busy Water Street offers some delicious old fashioned options that include brandies like Korbel or Old Forester, but you can also order an old fashioned with more traditional ingredients.

Bloody Mary

Perhaps no brunch is complete without a Bloody Mary. A traditional, tried and true Bloody Mary typically includes vodka, tomato juice, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, salt and pepper, and celery salt. You'll also probably get some garnish on the side that includes celery and lemon.

In Milwaukee, your Bloody Mary also probably comes with a small chaser of beer and some elaborate garnishes. Steny's serves up a pretty traditional Bloody Mary with the fun addition of a pickle and cheese curd for the garnishes. Wicked Hop, on the other hand, includes mozzarella whips that look like long cheese strings, shrimp, pickles, mushrooms, and even a beef stick. But if you're really looking for a unique Bloody Mary, head on over to Sobelman's. Even its signature Bloody Mary includes such fabulous garnishes as cheese, Polish sausage, mushroom, asparagus, green onion, lemon, and tomato. But for an extraordinary experience, order the "Bloody Beast" which is a Bloody Mary that has a whole fried chicken on top.

Ethiopian food

One of the best parts of living in or visiting a city like Milwaukee is the plentiful and diverse food options. With just 350 locations, there are fewer Ethiopian restaurants in the entire United States than there are Chinese restaurants in New York (via Ethiopian Restaurants). But even with that small number, Milwaukee is lucky enough to house two of the three options in the entire state of Wisconsin.

The Ethiopian Cottage Restaurant and Alem Ethiopian Village both serve meals on large platters of food with injera bread. This means that diners often enjoy these meals as Ethiopian finger food rather than using utensils. Injera is a spongy type of flatbread with a mellow, basic taste that acts as the perfect base for your meal.

An Ethiopian meal is meant to be a communal experience with people sharing and enjoying one another's company. In a city so widely rooted in community and spending time together, it's no wonder this cuisine has become so popular.

Cannibal sandwich

One of the odder Milwaukee favorites is that of the cannibal sandwich. Wisconsin Public Radio explains that some call it other interesting names like tiger meat or wildcat, but the premise is basically the same. Made traditionally, a cannibal sandwich is a piece of bread, rye bread, with raw beef smeared on top with slices of onion and salt and pepper on top. For many in Wisconsin, it is a long-loved tradition during Christmas time.

In all honesty, the cannibal sandwich is primarily a spin on steak tartare, which is chopped steak that has been seasoned. It's often mixed with Dijon mustard, capers, and even pickles with a raw egg on top.

Edible Milwaukee says that Bunzel's Meat Market in Milwaukee is a popular provider of the very lean ground sirloin for a perfect and safe cannibal sandwich. The owner, Jeff Zupan, takes great pride in the meat he provides to his loyal Milwaukee clientele, and Bunzel's even sells salted rye bread for your cannibal sandwiches.

Frozen custard

As Travel Wisconsin explains, Milwaukee is considered to be the frozen custard capital of the world. While you may imagine that ice cream would be the featured frozen treat of choice for many Milwaukeeans, custard actually takes center stage. However, there is only one ingredient that makes frozen custard different from ice cream: egg yolks.

Perhaps the most popular frozen custard stop in Milwaukee is Kopp's Custard. This Milwaukee favorite opened in 1950, and only ten years later, the company began experimenting with more exotic flavors. In addition to the always-available vanilla and chocolate, you can also order specialty flavors that change each day. Be sure to check in on Kopp's flavor preview before making your selection. And while Kopp's may be exceptionally popular, Gilles Frozen Custard has been open since 1938 as the oldest frozen custard stand in Wisconsin. Gilles also has specialty rotating flavors, but its flavor of the day switches every two days rather than every day.


DiLuigi Foods explains that German sausages brought to America were the origin of American hot dogs, but brats actually became popular right in Milwaukee. In 1954, the first brats were introduced during a baseball game at the Milwaukee County Stadium, and now, American Family Field's brat sales outpace hotdog sales.

While you can find brats throughout Milwaukee, some places should be at the very top of your must-visit list. For one, the Milwaukee Brat House offers brats from a few different companies, and all the options are available to you under one roof. Not to mention, you'll find great local beer and the popular cheese curd appetizer. For some of the most beloved brats in the city, go right to the source and check out Usinger's. These brat recipes have been around since 1880, and Milwaukeeians have loved them for over 140 years. Be sure to look for Usinger's on menus throughout Milwaukee and by visiting the sausage shop.

Real Chili

In a city with a culture so based on pubs and the bar scene, it's no wonder a great chili establishment tops the list of quintessential Milwaukeeian foods. This late-night favorite is, per OnMilwakee, entirely different from Cincinnati style, though they may look rather similar. In fact, Real Chili's recipe has over 20 years on the no-bean chili of Ohio.

Real Chili got its start when Francis Honesh purchased a chili recipe from Chili John's in Green Bay back in 1931. Winning recipe in hand, he began selling chili on the Marquette University campus, and the chili's prestige only grew.

When you go looking for that perfect bowl of chili today, you have two location options. You'll find a diner that relives those old-school diner days. The "Marquette Special" will get you medium spicy chili atop spaghetti and beans. Of course, there are plenty of other ways you can order your perfect chili too.

Hot ham and rolls

As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel explains, this popular Sunday staple has either German roots like brats or possibly Polish roots. Either way, the dish grew in popularity when butchers and bakeries offered promotional deals. The best part about the hot ham and rolls dish is that it feeds quite the hungry crowd. For this reason, churches in the area especially like to offer hot ham and rolls to their parishioners.

Reflecting that Sunday tradition, you can order a Hot Ham and Rolls Thru meal from Aggie's Bakery & Cake Shop on Sundays from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Be sure to bring a few mouths because you'll get a pound of ham and six rolls with this order. For a spin on this staple, Blue's Egg offers ham and pretzel rolls made fresh by Black Shoe Bakery. Be sure you order ahead by Wednesday for a Friday pickup.

Ma Baensch's herring

According to Ma Baensch, herring is a popular food to eat during the holidays for families with Scandinavian or German roots, as many families are in Milwaukee. In fact, it is good luck to eat herring at midnight to ring in the new year. So it's not a bad bet that with a midnight kiss and a little herring, you're going to have a fabulous new year.

While many families once prepared their own herring using closely held family recipes throughout the Great Depression, Lena Baensch was fine-tuning her own recipe. Soon, she was preparing the treat and offering it to friends and family. It wasn't long before the herring began to be sold in grocery stores and became a Milwaukee staple.

Today, you can find this local favorite in nearly any grocery store in Wisconsin, but the magic really began in Milwaukee. In fact, the company still operates out of Milwaukee on Locust Street, OnMilwaukee states.

Lake whitefish

Great Lakes Fisheries Trail shares that Lake Whitefish has been an important part of the fishing community in the Great Lakes region for thousands of years. Native Americans used the fish to make powder for stews and soups, as well as fish pies. They even mixed that same powder with Native fresh blueberries. The fish has been such an important part of the area for so long, the Milwaukee Public Museum explains that some Ojibwe bands used the Whitefish as a clan name within their kin relations.

Today, the Whitefish is the biggest income generator for commercial fisheries in the United States. And for good reason, because this fish has a taste that even those not particularly fond of fish can enjoy. You'll find Lake Whitefish in supermarkets across Milwaukee so you can pick some up and prepare it exactly to your liking, but you will also find Whitefish as a frequent offering on menus throughout the city.

Butter burgers

Before ordering a butter burger, you may be wondering what actually makes a burger different from a butter burger. In the case of the traditional Wisconsin butter burger, this means that the bun has been buttered. This adds a slight sweetness and wonderful addition to an already great burger.

Perhaps no city loves its butter burgers as much as Milwaukee, and there's no better place to experience a butter burger than Solly's Grille. According to the James Beard Foundation, founder Kenneth "Solly" Salmon created the original butter burger of 100% sirloin, stewed onions, and Wisconsin butter. And they're so popular that today that the restaurant goes through more than 130 pounds of butter each week.

This famous spot began serving the area in 1936 and was called Solly's Coffee Shop at the time. Today, locals and visitors alike enjoy this favorite staple, and with a 2022 James Beard Foundation award in hand, these burgers are a surefire delicious meal.

Beer cheese soup

It's no secret that Wisconsin can get pretty cold throughout the year. With these brisk temperatures, some of the best beer in the country, and incredible cheese, the next step may seem almost too obvious: Combine beer and chees to make soup.

While beer cheese soup may sound stereotypically Wisconsin, according to Wisconsin Cheeseman, beer cheese soup really comes from German cuisine. Although more difficult to find in Germany today, you'll find beer cheese soup throughout the United States, especially in the Midwest.

Though obviously known for its brats, the Milwaukee Brat House is also well known for its delicious beer cheese soup. This soup also uses the locally crafted Lakefront Brewery's IPA to ensure that perfect hoppiness comes through the cheddar. Not to mention, it is also cooked with hickory smoked ham and roasted red pepper. You can even dip a large bavarian pretzel in it for even more soul-warming carbohydrates.

Fish fry

Throughout Wisconsin, you'll see ads for weekly fish fries on Friday nights. According to Milwaukee Public Radio, the very origins of these typical Friday gathering spaces can be traced back to when the Vatican banned all flesh meat on Fridays way back in 1249. What do you eat when you can't eat meat? For Catholics, the answer is simple: fish. Fast forward several hundred years and you end up on Jones' Island in the 1960s; this is the beginning for the Milwaukee fish fry.

During Prohibition, fish fries were a great way for breweries to get people, and even families, to continue frequenting their establishments. These gathering spaces offer an abundance of fish, potato, cabbage, and rye bread to hungry diners. This delicious food, along with the camaraderie of shared experience on Milwaukee's iconic long gathering tables, make the Friday fish fry an integral part of Milwaukee's cuisine tradition.

Cream puffs

West Allis, a suburb just outside of Milwaukee, hosts the Wisconsin State Fair each year. Full of food, fun, and festivities, the fair also offers one delicious treat that many Wisconsinites consider a non-negotiable when attending the fair: the original cream puff. This pastry is a crusty shell that has been filled with heaps of sweet, fresh whipped cream. It's flaky, sweet, and deliciously messy.

Shepherd Express reports that the cream puff was created by Charles Kremer in 1924. Then Governor John Brane requested that Kremer come up with a treat to celebrate the dairy industry's popularity in Wisconsin. Since Kramer's family owned a bakery in Milwaukee, he was a reasonable choice. And from this bequest, the original cream puff was born.

Even though there are over 200 different food vendors at the fair, the cream puffs still draw a large crowd. Each year, the Wisconsin Bakers Association runs the operation and serves roughly 350,000 puffs throughout the fair.


Milwaukee may be the perfect place for snacking. They have great cheese, excellent sausage, and ridiculous beer. The only thing that could take all that goodness to the next level is an excellent charcuterie, and Milwaukee even has that on lock.

Charcuter-me is a premium snacking company in Milwaukee and explains that the term "charcuterie" refers to "the art of preparing and assembling cured meats and other products." The boards Charcuter-me builds are nothing short of beautiful and come in many different themes from its more traditional "Meet Me in the Middle" option all the way to its more unique option, "The Brunch Board," which includes bagels and other breakfast foods.

For a more upscale dining experience with a fabulous charcuterie option, check out Bavette La Boucherie, and be sure to order the cheese and charcuterie plate with three meats and three cheeses to enjoy along with their accompaniments. Having started out as a butcher shop, this restaurant takes great pride in bringing together a great charcuterie.

Root Beer

With a city as steeped in the tradition of brewing great beer, perhaps it's not too big of a leap to imagine that root beer would also be quite popular. This tasty soda is often served right alongside the beers on tap, and offers a great option for your kids and anyone avoiding alcohol. Many popular breweries in Milwaukee offer root beer, including Lakefront Brewery and Titletown Brewing.

However, Milwaukee's favorite root beer comes from Sprecher Brewery. Its founder, Randy Sprecher, fell in love with German brewing while serving in the military in Augsburg. After bringing his love of German beer back to the states, Sprecher attempted microbrewing in California before deciding to make his way east to Milwaukee. Initially, he worked at Pabst before leaving to establish his own brewery in 1985. Today, Sprecher is best known for its root beer, but it also sells a host of other beers and drinks, including cream soda and even blueberry soda.