Here’s what to order at Madison’s top restaurants

Tornado Steak House

Photo courtesy of Tornado Steak House

By UpNorthNews Staff

April 17, 2024

When it comes to dining out in Madison, there’s no shortage of amazing restaurants to choose from. No matter what you’re in the mood for, Madison probably has it. Read on to discover what to order at some of the top restaurants in Madison, as voted by readers.

Celebrate special occasions at Tornado Steak House

What to order: 28-oz. Ribeye on the Bone, Baked Potato

If you’re looking to mark a milestone, Tornado Steak House stands out as the crown jewel of Madison’s culinary scene. Crowned the best overall restaurant by local diners, Tornado offers an ambiance that’s as refined as its menu.

Walking into Tornado, you’re immediately enveloped in a warm, inviting atmosphere that sets the stage for a memorable meal. The staff here knows how to make an occasion feel special, with attentive service that’s both polished and personable.

The star of the show is, of course, the steak. Renowned for their perfect cuts, Tornado Steak House ensures each steak is seared to perfection. A must-order is their signature ribeye, with a melt-in-your-mouth texture that steak aficionados dream of. Pair it with a baked potato for a match made in culinary heaven.

Choosing Tornado Steak House for your special occasion promises an evening imbued with magic.

Satisfy your cravings with a quick bite at Butterbird

What to order: Butterbird Classic, French Fries, Warm Brownie with Soft Serve

When the hunger pangs hit and you’re pressed for time, Butterbird is your go-to spot in Madison. Recently crowned as Madison’s best new restaurant, this gem is making a name for itself with its inventive yet comforting offerings. The menu is packed with flavor and creativity, making it ideal for a quick lunch, dinner, or anytime snack.

At the heart of Butterbird’s menu is the iconic fried chicken sandwich. Pair the Butterbird Classic with a heap of golden, crispy fries for a meal that hits all the right notes.

Butterbird’s ambiance is as inviting as its food. The staff is welcoming and eager to share their favorites, making you feel right at home the moment you step through the door. It’s the kind of place where you can lose track of time.

For those with a bit of a sweet tooth, don’t miss out on their desserts. While not the primary draw, Butterbird’s sweet offerings are the perfect cap to a delightful meal. A warm brownie with a scoop of soft-serve ice cream showcases a homey yet refined touch.

Butterbird has established itself as a beacon for those seeking quality food without the wait. It’s a testament to Madison’s vibrant food scene, proving that great meals don’t always need a reservation or a lengthy wait. Next time you’re in Madison and looking for a quick but unforgettable meal, make sure Butterbird is at the top of your list.

Indulge in bar food excellence at The Old Fashioned

What to order: Cheese Curds, Double Brat, Old Fashioned

For those with a passion for genuine, heartwarming bar food, The Old Fashioned stands unparalleled in Madison. Voted best bar food and best cheese curds in town, this beloved spot crafts dishes that resonate with the soul of Wisconsin’s culinary traditions. The atmosphere is cozy and inviting, making it an ideal place to unwind with friends or enjoy a casual meal.

As you browse the menu, the choice is clear: starting with the famous cheese curds is an absolute must. These golden, crispy delights are a Wisconsin staple, and The Old Fashioned elevates them to an art form. Battered and fried to perfection, each curd is a bite of cheesy bliss, especially when dipped in their house-made tangy sauce. It’s the kind of appetizer that sets the stage for the hearty, flavorful meal to follow.

But the culinary journey doesn’t stop there. The Old Fashioned’s menu is a tribute to the best of bar food, with each dish showcasing local ingredients and timeless recipes. For the quintessential experience, pair your cheese curds with one of their signature sandwiches or burgers.

No visit to The Old Fashioned would be complete without sampling one of their local craft beers or their flagship Old Fashioned cocktail. Their selection of beverages harmonizes with the menu. Whether you prefer the hoppy notes of a local IPA or the smooth, sweet complexity of a classic cocktail, you’ll find the perfect sip for your bar food feast.

The Old Fashioned not only serves up the best bar food in Madison but also captures the essence of the city’s vibrant culinary scene. It’s a place where every bite tells a story of tradition, quality, and community.

Discover Madison’s best pizza at Salvatore’s Tomato Pie

What to order: Tomato Pie, Chocolate Cake

Pizza with tomato sauce swirl

Photo courtesy of Salvatore’s Tomato Pies

If you’re on the hunt for Madison’s pinnacle of pizza perfection, look no further than Salvatore’s Tomato Pie. This beloved establishment has earned a reputation for dedication to quality ingredients, a welcoming atmosphere, and an innovative approach to the classic pizza pie.

Upon stepping into Salvatore’s, you’re greeted by the inviting aroma of pizzas baking in their wood-fired oven, a hint at the culinary delights that await. The ambiance strikes a perfect balance between cozy and vibrant, making it an ideal spot for everything from a casual dinner with friends to a relaxed date night.

When perusing the menu, one standout option is the namesake Tomato Pie. This dish reverses the traditional pizza order, featuring a layer of mozzarella topped with a rich, flavorful tomato sauce, then finished with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of Parmesan. This upside-down approach allows the tomato sauce to shine, making it a must-try for both newcomers and regulars alike.

Beyond the pizzas, Salvatore’s also offers a range of appetizers, salads, and desserts. From the locally sourced greens in their salads to the house-made chocolate cake, every item on the menu adds another layer of enjoyment to your meal.

Salvatore’s Tomato Pie delivers an unforgettable pizza experience that goes beyond mere taste. It’s a celebration of local flavors, traditional techniques, and innovative twists on classic recipes. Whether you’re a lifelong Madison resident or just passing through, a visit to Salvatore’s promises to be a highlight of your culinary journey through the city.

Experience the best Friday Night Fish Fry at Kavanaugh’s Esquire Club

What to order: Icelandic Cod, White Wine

Friday nights in Madison have a beloved tradition that locals and visitors alike cherish – the iconic fish fry. Kavanaugh’s Esquire Club is at the heart of this tradition, having earned the title of Madison’s best fish fry, a distinction that’s no small feat in a city that takes its fish fries seriously. For those eager to dive into this quintessential Wisconsin experience, Kavanaugh’s is the perfect place to start.

Kavanaugh’s Esquire Club brings the spirit of Wisconsin’s fish fry tradition to life every Friday night with an atmosphere that’s as inviting as its menu. The moment you step inside, you’re greeted by the buzz of happy diners and the irresistible aroma of freshly fried fish.

The dish that stands as the hallmark of their menu, and the one you absolutely must try, is their classic beer-battered cod. This dish exemplifies Kavanaugh’s commitment to tradition and quality, featuring flaky, tender cod encased in a light, crispy batter that sings with flavor. It’s a harmonious blend of simplicity and indulgence, capturing the essence of what a fish fry should be.

Each order of the beer-battered cod comes accompanied by all the traditional fixings – like a creamy coleslaw and rye bread. These sides are integral components of the fish fry experience, each adding its own layer of texture and taste that complements the main dish beautifully.

For the full Kavanaugh’s experience, you’ll want to pair your fish fry with a beverage that accentuates the flavors. Whether it’s a cold beer from one of Madison’s local breweries or a glass of crisp white wine, the right drink can elevate your meal from delicious to unforgettable.

Kavanaugh’s Esquire Club offers a window into a cherished local tradition, served up in a welcoming setting that makes every visitor feel like a part of the community. It’s an experience that embodies the spirit of Friday nights in Wisconsin. So, for a taste of Madison’s finest, make your way to Kavanaugh’s and indulge in a fish fry that’s sure to leave you planning your next visit.

Bite into Madison’s best burger at Dotty Dumpling’s Dowry

What to order: Melting Pot, French Fries, Vanilla Shake

Burgers at Dotty Dumpling's Dowry

Photo courtesy of Dotty Dumpling’s Dowry

Finding the perfect burger is akin to discovering treasure, and at Dotty Dumpling’s Dowry, the search ends with a satisfying bite into Madison’s best burger. This iconic restaurant has won the hearts and appetites of locals and visitors alike, securing its spot as the go-to destination for burger aficionados in the city.

Dotty Dumpling’s Dowry offers an inviting atmosphere that’s perfect for a casual meal with friends, a family outing, or even a solo adventure when the craving for a good burger strikes. The staff’s welcoming nature and the cozy ambiance make everyone feel at home, setting the stage for a memorable dining experience.

The menu at Dotty Dumpling’s Dowry is a parade of excellence, with each option crafted from high-quality ingredients and a clear passion for flavor. While it’s hard to go wrong with any choice, the standout recommendation is undoubtedly their signature creation, the Melting Pot. This masterpiece starts with a perfectly cooked patty, juicy and flavorful, creating a solid foundation for the layers of toppings that follow. Three kinds of cheese melt seamlessly over the meat, adding a rich creaminess, while crispy bacon introduces a smoky crunch. And the English Garlic Sauce, a nod to Wisconsin’s beloved butter burger, ties it all together with a tangy kick that elevates the burger from great to unforgettable.

Side options include classic crispy fries or onion rings. Both sides are executed with the same attention to detail and quality as the burgers, ensuring a well-rounded meal that satisfies from the first bite to the last.

Dotty Dumpling’s Dowry crafts experiences that linger in your memory long after the meal is over. The combination of quality ingredients, expert preparation, and a warm, friendly environment makes it clear why this restaurant has been voted Madison’s best burger. Next time you’re in the city and the craving for a delicious burger strikes, head to Dotty Dumpling’s Dowry for a taste that confirms its well-deserved reputation.




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