Madison, Wisconsin, is one of the most livable, YP-friendly cities in the country. Home to a major Big 10 research university, multiple Fortune 500 companies, and a thriving tech scene — aided in part by Epic, the health care software titan that was founded in Madison in 1979 — the city is full of young, affluent Millennials in their 20s and 30s. And since there are a ton of affordable apartments in Madison, they have money to spend. Madison’s dining scene caters to them with chefs and restaurants offering sophisticated menus, often featuring ingredients sourced from local farms, creameries, breweries, and purveyors.
But if you’re new to the city — or new to anything more gourmet than the Wendy’s four-for-four — it can be hard to know where to start. So here are five essential dinner spots for YPs in Madison.
Tory Miller’s farm-to-table mecca on the square sources most of its ingredients from Dane County, and makes liberal use of the farmers market just outside its floor-to-ceiling windows. Dishes run the gamut from Wisco classics (the best cheese curds in the city) to inventive takes on Korean comfort food (the bibimbap is a standout).
What do you get when you hollow out a bank, install a pizza oven, and set some of Madison’s best bartenders loose? One of the best — and most hopping — places to have a slice and a cocktail. Pizzas run the gamut from thin crust, Neapolitan-style pies to thick, Detroit-style pans, and the excellent beer list is accompanied by a bar menu heavily focused on rum. Plus, they turned the bank’s vault into a basement dance lounge. Proceed down the stairs with caution, especially if you’ve downed a couple of the bar’s delicious daiquiris.
- Pig in a Fur Coat
It’s almost perverse that Pig in a Fur Coat, with its dedication to all things porcine, is on hippie-friendly Willy Street. But isthmus-dwellers flock to this intimate, meat-loving joint, which marries classic Italian technique with boundary-pushing ingredients and dishes. There’s nary a vegetable in sight — but plenty of duck fat, foie gras, and gorgeous charcuterie. And an informed wine list — and excellent cocktail program — is sure to make dinner a boozy, indulgent affair.
For a city situated on two lakes, Madison doesn’t have many waterfront restaurants. But the city is lucky to have Sardine, which is tucked into the Machinery Row on Lake Monona. With high ceilings and exposed wood beams, it’s one of the prettiest dining rooms in Madison, with great views of the lake. The food — mostly French bistro classics, with a special focus on seafood — doesn’t disappoint either. Also, this is the place for one of the best brunches in the city.
This tiny space on East Johnson is home to some of the most consistently innovative, interesting cooking in the city — as well as a fair amount of taxidermy. (Look for the badger over the door.) It’s the restaurant arm of Underground Butcher, Madison’s premier butcher shop, and features many of their products — ethically-raised pork, beef, and chicken. The charcuterie is predictably excellent, as are the steaks. But the restaurant really shines when it comes to vegetables and creativity, and its constantly-changing menu reflects both the changing seasons and the restless, innovative minds back in the tiny kitchen. Come here for pan-seared shiitakes with black garlic, or a lamb roast with fermented jalapeno, yogurt, and mint. And don’t forget the cocktails — they’re excellent.