clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The 5 best restaurants in Madison: A Badger fan's guide to dining right

Whether you're a first-time visitor or know Madison better than anyone, we say this is how you should structure your dining on a football weekend in Madtown.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Flickr (Maitri)

With the 2014 season bearing down upon us like a freight train strapped to a rocket, it's time to talk about what really matters: where to eat and drink when you're in Madison for a beautiful fall football weekend.

Over the next few days, we here at Bucky's 5th Quarter Barrel will be setting up a living document of places to eat, places to pregame and places to celebrate victories or drown your sorrows in defeat (this one is extremely pertinent to Nebraska fans).

As I haven't lived in Madison for over three years now, I solicited some help from current Madtown residents (as well as past residents and B5Q staff members) when compiling these lists. I think this will result in a more thorough and wide-reaching selection of venues as opposed to just The Old Fashioned. That was originally going to be the whole post. Just a picture of The Old Fashioned with the title, "Go Here."

Today, we are going to look at five restaurants in Madison that you should try and patronize while in Madison for the weekend. I'm going to assume that you will eat five meals (at a minimum, we Wisconsinites are not a small people and there is good reason for that) whilst on the isthmus and as such, I will give you a top choice for each: dinner on Friday, breakfast on Saturday before the game, dinner after the game on Saturday, breakfast on Sunday and lunch on Sunday before you leave town. There will be a top choice for each meal as well as consolation choices if the meal warrants them. Alright, let's get to this unassailable list that I'm positive none of you will have a problem with.

Friday-night dinner

You just rolled into town and, boy, are you starving. What's a visiting fan to do for dinner in a city with myriad dining options? First of all, welcome to Madison. You will enjoy yourself greatly if you follow this sports blog's dining recommendations. No, your hobbies are stupid! Sorry, we've veered off course here. For dinner on Friday night, I suggest The Old Fashioned.

This has been my favorite place to eat in Madison for years and I'm pretty sure I could (and would!) suggest eating here for all five meals. They have, by my count, 161 beers from Wisconsin and one import (Grain Belt). They have excellent cheese curds (which you should pair with their Tiger Blue sauce) and a mouth-watering walleye sandwich (No. 36 on the menu, and no, I didn't have to look that up). Their motto is "Where Wisconsin Is King" and besides saying, "I don't think Tanner McEvoy will start every game for the Badgers this season," nothing is more true.

They don't take reservations and you will wait, but grab a seat at the bar, try a beer from one of Wisconsin's wonderful craft breweries, and thank the good lord that you aren't in West Lafayette anymore.

Worth mentioning: The Weary Traveler (best burger in Madison: Bob's Bad Breath Burger) was mentioned by multiple people and deserves your consideration if the wait at The Old Fashioned is too long. They have board games to play if your company is boring.

Saturday-morning breakfast

I'm a guy who doesn't like to rock the boat, so this is the first time I think I've ever posted something controversial on the Internet. I don't care for Mickies Dairy Bar. Oh my god, that felt so good to say out loud. If you like cramped, '50s style diners and waiting in line for hours to not have a Bloody Mary with breakfast on game day, go right ahead and hoof it to the end of the line on Monroe Street.

If, however, you would rather not do that, grab a bagel sandwich from Gotham Bagels just off the Capitol Square and thank me later when your hangover is cured. I recommend the Brighton Beach: Alaskan salmon, caper cream cheese, watercress, red onion and tomato. After you chug your sandwich, take a quick trip around the Dane County Farmer's Market (get spicy cheese bread for the walk toward the stadium) and then head down State Street for awesome people-watching.

I had upwards of one Jewish dude from New York who graduated from UW tell me, "Gotham is as close as I've gotten to a New York bagel place outside of New York." So, I think that settles that. Of note: he suggests The Spanish Harlem (a take on a Cuban sandwich).

Worth mentioning: Fine, just go to Mickies Dairy Bar. I know you were going to anyways. The food is actually pretty good; I'm just a hater.

Saturday-afternoon/evening meal

With so many 11 a.m. games (thanks, Western Illinois and Maryland), your second meal of Saturday happens at a nebulous time. It's not really lunch time or dinner time, just sort of "it's time to eat again or else I'll blackout by 6" time. There are many worthy suggestions for this meal, but the one I got over and over and over (actually, it was mentioned in every response I got from friends) is Tornado Steakhouse.

I even asked former Badger defensive lineman (and current Philadelphia Eagle WOOOOOO! GO BIRDS! PACKERS SUCK!) Beau Allen what his favorite restaurant in Madison was on a recent Reddit AMA and here is his response:


His stance on cheesesteaks is also the correct one. They're going to love him in Philly.

Anyways, I couldn't agree more with, well, everyone. Tornado is awesome and you should eat there after the game. Get a wedge salad and any of the steaks (the 8 oz. filet was what I got last time, but the time before that I got the New York Strip. Don't make me choose!). The French onion soup is really good, too, and I hate French onion soup.

Tornado also has a late-night menu (served until 1 a.m.) for those of you who did blackout at 6 and forget to eat, as well as a downstairs bar (the Corral Room) for your friends who have been dealing with you all day and need a drink of their own.

You won't get a more authentic "Wisconsin supper club" feeling at any other restaurant downtown, nor will you get a better steak.

Worth mentioning: The Cooper's Tavern (great beer selection and English-style food), The Great Dane (downtown location; they brew their own beer and if you can't find something you like on their expansive menu, you shouldn't eat out anymore), Dotty Dumpling's Dowry (awesome burger joint), Ian's Pizza (weird slices of pizza, get Smokey the Bandit, but long lines late-night), really anywhere that isn't State Street Brats.

Sunday-morning breakfast

You've spent the past two days destroying your body with beer and fried foods (YAY!) and you need something to balance you out on Sunday morning. That something is breakfast and a Bloody Mary at Bluephies, which is both a restaurant AND a vodkatorium. My spell-check didn't underline "vodkatorium" so it must be a real thing. The Avocado Extravaganza scrambler is the way to go here, but the Breakfast Jambalaya is awesome, too (just not this week, because we are on a strict anti-Cajun diet. HOME-FIELD ADVANTAGE STARTS HERE!). Also worth checking out is the aptly named Good Things In A Jar, which is quite literally a jar full of breakfast meats.

They have, like, 10 different Bloodys, so try a flight to get the true Bluephies experience. You'll find that dog that bit you one of these days.

Worth mentioning: The Great Dane and The Old Fashioned both have awesome brunches. The Great Dane has a sweet outdoor seating area. A newcomer to the scene, and a highly rated one at that, is the Bassett Street Brunch Club which offers so many different types of donuts and a killer corned beef hash. They are a part of the same restaurant group (Food Fight) as Bluephies, so I'm expecting a pretty nice kickback from them at the end of the season.

Sunday-afternoon lunch

Culver's. Because #B1G!

Worth mentioning: Vintage (downtown location; they brew their own beer, too, and have a nice patio).

Now, before you go typing a 500-word response about how my mother must have been drinking straight bleach while she was pregnant with me since I didn't mention your favorite restaurant, please remember that we're going to do this all again shortly with a Madison Bar Power Rankings. So save some vitriol for then, too.

/Prepares "go bag" //books multiple international flights ///sharpens shank